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New Trump Administration Rule Could Deny Green Cards, Citizenship To Immigrants Receiving Public Assistance

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) -- The Trump administration on Monday moved forward with new rules that could deny green cards and citizenship for immigrants who get public assistance.

The move is expected to affect nearly 400,000 people. It does not apply to those who have come to the United States as refugees, or asylum seekers.

The details of the program and how it will affect people have yet to be released, but it will likely make it harder for low-income immigrants to come to or stay in the U.S. It could also cut the amount of federal funding that comes to the Bay Area.

"This is not people just staying home and receiving public benefits," says Lucia Martel-Dow, immigration services director for San Rafael's Canal Alliance. "This is people that are already in the market, working and contributing to our community, but they're just using these public benefits that they're entitled to."

And then there could be financial fallout, because many of these public assistance programs are funded based on demand. "So if they don't apply for those benefits that they're entitled to, then that means that could potentially have less funding," says Martel-Dow. "And that has an impact on our community."

The rule means many green card and visa applicants could be turned down if they have low incomes and have used government benefits. Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli says that has one purpose.

"To objectively determine whether an applicant is likely, at any time in the future, to receive public benefits above the designated threshold," said Cuccinelli.

The rule is an expansion of a Clinton-era law used to classify immigrants dependent on the government for support. The rule announced Monday goes into effect Oct. 15.

If enacted, it would require caseworkers to consider how much green card applicants benefit from government housing, food stamps and medical welfare programs.

At the Alameda County Community Food Bank, officials said they have been worried this rule was coming since President Trump took office.

"This policy intentionally is going to increase hunger in our community for thousands of families," said Stephen Knight, the Policy & Partnerships Director for the Alameda County Community Food Bank.

Organizations like the Alameda County Community Food Bank are not included in this rule. But officials are afraid they'll bear the brunt by taking on the needs of those who are nervous about government programs.

"If a substantial percentage of those individuals and families with young children are going hungry and turning to the food back because they are afraid to go to the government because of this kind of policy, that is going to be a huge impact on this organization," said Knight.

No one knows what other policy changes could be next.

The new rule does not substitute for congressional action in other areas, said Cuccinelli.

When asked about whether the rule is unfairly targeting low-income immigrants, Cuccinelli said, "We expect people to be able to stand on their own two feet."

Gov. Gavin Newsom and an array of Bay Area officials on Monday deplored the new rule.

"This is a reckless policy that targets the health and well-being of immigrant families and communities of color, with widespread implications for our state's health care, housing and affordability.," Newsom said.

California Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Kamala Harris also weighed in on president trump's new green card rules Monday.

"Well it's just an ongoing campaign of his to vilify a whole group of people, as he does with so many things, be ignorant about the history of our country, who we are, how we were founded and what our values are," said Harris.

Newsom, Harris, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, University of California President Janet Napolitano and others said the new policy will harm immigrants by deterring them from getting needed help.

"It threatens noncitizens with dire immigration consequences for accessing public services they are lawfully entitled to receive and makes it more difficult for counties to provide services that make all our residents healthier and more self-sufficient," Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said in a statement.

Lawyers with the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center said they plan to sue.

Williams, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra each said they are considering "all legal options" to oppose the rule.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed said, "Let's be clear -- this proposal is designed to make our most vulnerable residents forego critical services, food, and medical care that they lawfully receive or risk the opportunity to remain in the United States in the future."

Napolitano said the rule "sends a detrimental message internationally -- that the United States does not want other countries to send their best and brightest here to study and add to the intellectual exchange at our universities, to conduct important research, and to contribute substantially to our economy, among other things."

Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) stated, "This rule will hurt thousands of immigrant families across the country, including many here in the East Bay, as they try to provide for themselves and keep food on the table.

"Denying immigrants visas and green cards because they need help is wrong and xenophobic," Lee said.

© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Wilson Walker, Anne Makovec and Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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