The Trump administration's proposed rule, under which immigrants may be denied green card if they have received government benefits in the past or are likely to receive one in the future, is likely to have a major impact on immigrants from South Asian countries, a community organisation said on Tuesday.
"The new rule would hit the South Asian American communities particularly hard, as over 10 per cent of green card recipients in FY 2016 were from South Asian countries," the South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) said.
It condemned the Department of Homeland Security announcement of the proposed "public charge" rules that would deny permanent resident status ("green cards") to immigrants who use government services such as nutrition programmes and housing assistance.
According to a recent Pew Research Center study, one in four immigrants in the US from Bangladesh and Nepal and one in three immigrants from Bhutan already live in poverty. This new rule would put all these individuals at great risk, it said.
SAALT said the term "public charge" predated federal immigration law entirely. In the early 1800s, the states would only free individual slaves on the condition that they never become a "public charge". This framework was now being expanded to criminalise the immigrant communities, it said.
"This policy is about who this administration considers a desirable immigrant. It is designed to instill fear in immigrant communities of colour and relegate the non-citizens and their families to second-class status," said Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT.
"It will punish the immigrants who rightfully access the public benefits to which they are entitled, it will punish parents for taking care of their children and it will force immigrant families to choose between citizenship and basic needs," she added.
"Rather than taxing the one per cent, this administration chooses to punish immigrant families over and over again. Today, on the one-year anniversary of Muslim Ban 3.0, we say no to more racist and anti-immigrant policies," Raghunathan said.
Congressman Bobby Scott from Virginia said the proposed policy was making grounds for denying legal US residency to immigrants.
"The Trump administration's 'public charge' proposal would force hundreds of thousands of immigrants to make the impossible choice between receiving basic assistance for food and shelter and risking being separated from their families.
"This proposal is cruel, counterproductive and in violation of the basic principles that make America an example for the world," Scott said.
According to Congressman Tony Cardenas, the policy is equal parts cruel and senseless. "Not only will this hurt the tax-paying families, it will also have a hugely negative impact on the US economy and on American citizens," he said.
In 2014, the immigrants in this country earned US Dollar 1.3 trillion and paid more than US Dollar 223 billion in federal taxes, while paying another USD 105 billion in combined state and local taxes, Cardenas said.
"We are talking about people who are vital to the American economy and it is insane to threaten people who are legal, rule-following contributors to American communities. This proposed rule will hurt the grocery stores, farmers and healthcare providers. Our American economy will suffer. It just does not make any sense," he added.
"In their quest to shame and isolate immigrants to this country, the Trump administration is gambling with the health of children, wagering that their lives matter less because they were not born here," Congresswoman Judy Chu said.
Asserting that there was no justification for this rule change "outside of bald-faced xenophobia", Chu said the change applied to the immigrants who were here legally and had done nothing to merit punishment.
"Immigrant families are no less entitled to food or housing support than any other person trying to get by in this unequal economy. Moreover, by working and paying taxes, many of these immigrants have actually earned these benefits. Others, like children and seniors who are not working should not be punished for somebody else's prejudice," she said.
The American Immigration Lawyers' Association (AILA) said the new rule would prevent many immigrants from securing lawful permanent residence and remaining with their families in the US, simply because they previously received some type of basic healthcare support, nutrition assistance or other vital services.
"The proposed rule is the Trump administration's latest assault on immigrant families, who are integral to the fabric of the American society and have been pivotal to our nation's success," said Benjamin Johnson, AILA executive director.