Immigration advocates expressed outrage Tuesday amid reports the Trump administration plans to make it all but impossible for legal immigrants to become citizens or permanent residents if they have ever relied on government programs such as the Affordable Care Act.
The proposal is part of White House adviser Stephen Miller’s broader plan to reduce the number of immigrants who obtain legal status, multiple people familiar with the matter told NBC News.
The policies could amount to the most drastic reform to the nation’s immigration system in decades; experts estimate that as many as 20 million immigrants could be affected.
“We’ve seen abuses like this before in our history — whether it was turning away Jews fleeing the Holocaust or discriminating against Irish Catholics,” the National Immigration Law Center said in a statement. “History cannot repeat itself. We can’t allow it.”
The move is still in the planning stages, but its enactment would reportedly make it far harder for immigrants to become citizens or get permanent legal status if they or their family members have ever used Obamacare, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, food stamps and other public benefits.
The plan would not need congressional approval, since the administration likely intends to implement it by redefining “public charge,” an obscure statute of immigration law that allows the U.S. to turn away immigrants deemed a burden to society.
The government can already bar some immigrants from obtaining citizenship or green cards if they’ve relied on institutional long-term care and supplemental security income, but the new proposal would expand the law to make it more difficult for low-income immigrants to obtain permanent status.
Becca Telzak, a director of health programs at immigration advocacy group Make the Road New York, said the proposed plan would disproportionately affect immigrants working jobs that pay too little for them to provide for their loved ones.
“It makes families choose between things that they really need, and whether they’re able to stay in the country,” Telzak told the Daily News. “It’s making people have to choose between very difficult things that they shouldn’t have to choose between.”
Other advocates blasted the planned policy shift as politically motivated and racially charged.
“This will be yet another dangerous, desperate and cynical strategy aimed at kicking immigrants out of America and keeping Republicans in power,” said Frank Sherry, executive director of immigration advocacy group America’s Voice. “They do so to cynically divide Americans in hopes of mobilizing disaffected white voters and blaming stagnant wages, rising health care costs, defunded schools and threats to Social Security and Medicare on ‘the other.’ ”
A White House spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.
The Trump administration has already made it known that it intends to curtail legal as well as illegal immigration. Trump frequently blasts U.S. immigration laws as “weak” even as public data shows his administration is on track to issue 20% fewer green cards in fiscal year 2018 than the Obama administration did in fiscal year 2016.
Meanwhile, advocates and lawyers have complained of crippling delays and administrative gridlock at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that issues visas and green cards.
A spokeswoman maintained Tuesday that the agency has not changed the way it processes immigration applications.