WASHINGTON – The Trump administration took one of its most aggressive steps yet on Monday to target legal immigration, publishing new rules that could deny green cards to immigrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance, and potentially making it more difficult for some to get legal status in the United States.

Federal law already requires those seeking green cards and legal status to prove they will not become a “public charge,” or a burden on the U.S. But the new rules, made public Monday, outline a broader range of programs that could disqualify them. Officers at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will now weigh public assistance along with other factors such as education, household income and health to determine whether to grant legal status.

Ken Cuccinelli, the controversial acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services, said at the White House on Monday that the new rules help ensure that those seeking to enter or remain in the U.S. are “self-sufficient,” and not relying on public resources. He rejected criticism that the Trump administration is targeting low-income immigrants.

“We certainly expect anyone of any income to stand on their own two feet,” Cuccinelli said. “A poor person can be prepared to be self-sufficient. Many have been throughout the history of this country, so let’s not look at that as the be-all and end-all.”

President Trump has kept his effort to crack down on illegal immigration in the spotlight and central to his reelection campaign in 2020. But the new rules represent a significant escalation of a quieter but farther-reaching effort to reduce legal immigration, with Cuccinelli and others led by immigration hardliner Stephen Miller.

The rules will take effect in mid-October. They don’t apply to U.S. citizens, even if the U.S. citizen is related to an immigrant who is subject to them. But they still are likely to have a wide impact on both citizens and non-citizens alike, especially children, and in states with large immigrant communities, like California.

Advocates have vowed to block the new rules from taking effect, and Congress could attempt to halt their implementation through legislation. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) has introduced one such measure in the House.

“Our message to our state’s strong, diverse immigrant community is simple,” said Cynthia Buiza, executive director of the California Immigrant Policy Center. “California has your back.”

Since the Trump administration first proposed the rules in October 2018, they have already had a chilling effect, with fear leading families of both U.S. citizens and non-citizens to no longer access crucial federal assistance.

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