By Colleen Long and Jill Colvin

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced Monday it is moving forward with one of its most aggressive steps yet to restrict legal immigration: denying green cards to many migrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance.

Federal law already requires those seeking to become permanent residents or gain legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the U.S. — a “public charge,” in government speak — but the new rules detail a broader range of programs that could disqualify them.

It’s part of an overhaul of the nation’s immigration system that the administration has been working to put in place, despite legal pushback. While most attention has focused on President Donald Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration, including recent raids in Mississippi and the continued separation of migrant parents from their children, the new rules target people who entered the United States legally and are seeking permanent status.

Trump is trying to move the U.S. toward a system that focuses on immigrants’ skills instead of emphasizing the reunification of families.

The new rules

Under the changes, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will now weigh whether applicants have received public assistance along with other factors such as education, income and health to determine whether to grant legal status.

The rules will take effect in mid-October. They don’t apply to U.S. citizens, though immigrants related to the citizens may be subject to them.

Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the rule change will ensure those who come to the country don’t become a burden, though they pay taxes.

“We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient,” Cuccinelli said. “That’s a core principle of the American dream. It’s deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration.”

Migrants make up a small percentage of those who get public benefits. In fact, many are ineligible for such benefits because of their immigration status.

Immigrant rights groups strongly criticized the changes, warning the rules would scare immigrants away from asking for needed help. And they voiced concern the rules give officials too much authority to decide whether someone is likely to need public assistance in the future.

The Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center said it would file a lawsuit, calling the new rules an attempt to redefine the legal immigration system “in order to disenfranchise communities of color and favor the wealthy.”

On average, 544,000 people apply for green cards every year, with about 382,000 falling into categories that would be subject to the new review, according to the government.

The rules will not apply retroactively, and active U.S. military members, refugees and asylum seekers are exempt.

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