US President Donald Trump’s administration on Monday unveiled a sweeping rule that some experts say could cut legal immigration in half by denying visas and permanent residency to hundreds of thousands of people for being too poor.
The long-anticipated rule, pushed by Trump’s leading aide on immigration, Stephen Miller, takes effect Oct. 15.
It would reject applicants for temporary or permanent visas if they fail to meet high enough income standards or if they receive public assistance such as welfare, food stamps, public housing or US Medicaid.
“The Trump administration is trying to bypass [the US] Congress and implement its own merit based-immigration system. It’s really a backdoor way of prohibiting low-income people from immigrating,” said Charles Wheeler of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc.
The rule is part of efforts by Trump, a US Republican, to curb both legal and illegal immigration, an issue that he has made a cornerstone of his presidency.
After the rule was announced, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) said that it would file a lawsuit to stop it from taking effect.
The group’s executive director said that the rule was racially motivated.
The state attorneys general of California and New York threatened to sue.
The 837-page rule, seeking to target those who could become “public charges” in the US, could be the most drastic of all the administration’s policies targeting the immigration system, experts have said.
It could deny visas to people for not making enough money or who are drawing public benefits.
The government estimates that the status of 382,000 immigrants could immediately be reviewed on those grounds, while immigrant advocates fear that the real number could be much higher, especially if the rule is extended to the millions of people who apply for US visas at American consulates around the world.
The State Department already changed its foreign affairs manual in January last year to give diplomats wider discretion in deciding visa denials on public charge grounds.
In the fiscal year that ended in September last year, the number of visas denied on those grounds quadrupled, compared with the previous year.
“This is an end run around Congress to achieve through executive fiat what the administration cannot get through Congress,” said Doug Rand, cofounder of Boundless, a pro-migrant group that helps families navigate the US immigration system.
The rule is intended to scare immigrants away from using public benefits to which they are legally entitled, Rand said, adding that a study by Boundless found it could eliminate more than half of visa applicants.
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