MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – About half a million immigrants apply for green cards each year in the U.S. But under new rules, the vast majority could be at risk of being denied permanent legal status.
"It goes against all sorts of American values and, frankly, it is very scary," Florida Immigrant Coalition spokeswoman Melissa Taveras said.
Immigration activists across the country have expressed outrage following the Trump administration's announcement Monday that it is moving forward with one of most aggressive steps yet: To restrict legal immigration.
New rules could deny green cards to many immigrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance.
"If an individual has collected any sort of public benefit for more than 12 months in the span of 36 months, they could be subjected to be disqualified once they apply for a permanent green card," Taveras said.
Taveras argued that many immigrants who live in the country pay taxes and are eligible for public benefits. She said it's assistance that shouldn't have an impact on whether they are eligible for a green card.
"If you are paying for these benefits and they are there, they are in place so that if you are experiencing some sort of hardship you can temporarily access these funds to get you back in shape," she said.
According to the Immigration Council, of the 4.1 million noncitizens living in Florida in 2017, about 1.2 million have used some type of government support.
"We certainly expect people of any income to be able to stand on their own two feet," said Ken Cuccinelli, director of Citizenship and Immigration Services. "Throughout our history, self-reliance has been a core principal in America."
The Trump administration said it doesn't want low income immigrants to be a burden on society despite using significantly less public benefits than low income adults born in the U.S., according to an analysis by The Associated Press.
Those not affected by the new rules are people who already have green cards, pregnant women, children, refugees and asylum seekers.
"We have never seen this before and, basically, the overall message is in order for you to enter this country you better be wealthy," Taveras said.
The new rules are expected to go into effect Oct. 15, but the National Immigration Law Center said they plan to file a legal challenge against the new regulations.