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Trump’s new rule targets housing subsidies for legal immigrants

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Under revised rule, immigrants deemed likely to need housing subsidies will be denied entry to the U.S.

Brown public housing units in Manhattan, New York City. Getty Images

The Trump administration stepped up its efforts on Monday to keep legal immigrants from using federal housing subsidies by amending the so-called “public charge” rule, which allows the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to deny entry to any immigrant seeking a visa or green card if they’re deemed likely to depend on the government as their main source of support.

Under the revised rule, “public charge” is dramatically expanded to include a number of new federal programs, including Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, and Public Housing programs, in addition to food stamps, Medicaid, and parts of Medicare.

The changed rule—which will go into effect 60 days after it’s posted to the federal register, expected to be tomorrow—will give favor to wealthier immigrants in determining whether they’ll receive a visa, green card, or citizenship.

“The public charge rule puts low-income immigrants in an impossible bind of having to choose between accessing the supports they need to live safe and healthy lives or protecting their immigration status,” said Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition in a statement. “They will face increased risk of eviction and homelessness, with tremendous personal and societal costs from the poorer health, lowered educational attainment and lessened lifetime earnings that will result.”

The rule will apply to new immigrants beginning on the effective date, in addition to current immigrants seeking a change to their immigration status. Exempt from the rule are those who already have green cards, refugees, asylum-seekers, pregnant women, and children.

DHS will consider specific criteria when evaluating whether an immigrant is likely to depend on public subsidies, including age, health, financial status, assets, educations, skills, and familial status. But DHS officials will have broad authority to determine whether these factors will likely constitute reliance on public subsidies such as housing vouchers.

The rule redefines public charge “to mean an alien who receives one or more designated public benefits for more than 12 months in the aggregate within any 36-month period.” If the person receives two benefits in one month, that would count as having received two months of benefits.

The criteria DHS will evaluate will also have “heavily weighted” factors that go farther in making the determination that an immigrant will become a public charge. Among the heavily weighted negative factors are lack of employment, current receipt of public benefits, insufficient means to cover medical costs, and a previous determination of being deportable on the basis of public charge.

Heavily weighted positive factors include English proficiency, education, private health insurance, work history, family relationships, and receipt of grants or contracts.

The public charge rule change is just the latest in a long list of attempts by the Trump administration to curb both legal and illegal immigration, and it’s not the first time the administration has targeted immigrants who receive housing subsidies.

In May, the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule that would change eligibility requirements for pubic housing that by its own analysis would evict more than 55,000 children of immigrant parents.

The rule would deny eligibility to a family if any member is an undocumented immigrant. Currently, an immigrant family can sign a lease on a public housing unit as long as one family member is in the United States legally, usually the child of undocumented immigrants.