The Department of Homeland Security has drafted a proposal that would negatively affect legal immigrants' chances of attaining permanent residency in the U.S. if he or she used public benefits prior to applying for that status, according to a report published Thursday afternoon.
The proposed new rules would allow U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers to consider an applicant's reliance on taxpayer-funded benefits, including food assistance, government pre-school programs, utility bill subsidies, and health insurance premiums.
The proposal states a person would be deemed a "public charge" if he or she relies on "any government assistance in the form of cash, checks or other forms of money transfers, or instrument and non-cash government assistance in the form of aid, services, or other relief."
Acting DHS press secretary Tyler Houlton said any change to current policy would stay within the law and is only meant to safeguard taxpayers' money.
"The administration is committed to enforcing existing immigration law, which is clearly intended to protect the American taxpayer. Any potential changes to the rule would be in keeping with the letter and spirit of the law – as well as the reasonable expectations of the American people for the government to be good stewards of taxpayer funds," Houlton told the Washington Examiner.
Additionally, the proposal states "non-citizens who receive public benefits are not self-sufficient and are relying on the U.S. government and state and local entities for resources instead of their families, sponsors or private organizations."
It also says noncitizens could be motivated to emigrate to the U.S. because they know they will be eligible for government assistance.
Current policy, which has been in place for two decades, allows officers to look at a very small range of the applicant's assistance history.
The change has not been formally announced by the Trump administration. If approved, it could affect up to 400,000 people, as 373,000 visa recipients were granted permanent residency in 2016.