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A Look At Possible Effects Of The Trump Administration's Proposed Green Card Rules

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A proposed change to eligibility requirements for immigrants seeking a green card - permanent U.S. residency - could have a dramatic impact on legal immigration. The Trump administration is expected to submit such a proposal for review in the coming weeks. It would expand the number of green card seekers whose applications are penalized for using public assistance. Right now, only those using cash assistance are penalized. Here to explain this proposal and the impact it is already having even in proposal form is Mark Greenberg. He is with the Migration Policy Institute, which has been studying drafts of this as they appear. Mark Greenberg, welcome.

MARK GREENBERG: Thanks very much.

KELLY: OK. So what exactly is the proposed change here?

GREENBERG: This is a very dramatic change from the current standards that apply. Under the proposed rule, they would look at receipt of cash assistance. They would also include food stamps, SNAP benefits. They would include housing assistance. They would also include Medicaid and subsidies for Part D and Medicare.

KELLY: So you're potentially talking about impacting a lot of people, a lot more people than are currently caught up in the way the system works.

GREENBERG: It's a much larger group of benefits that would be counted. And the focus in the process would be not just are you currently receiving or have you received recently, but also are you likely to receive one or more of these benefits at any time in the future.

KELLY: I said when I introduced you that this proposal is already having an impact, even in draft form. What is that impact?

GREENBERG: There have been concerns about this proposal for a number of months. And there are multiple reports around the country of individuals dropping out of health programs and public benefits programs because of uncertainty and fear about how participation programs might affect their immigration status.

KELLY: So people who are dropping out of programs or maybe not applying for assistance in the first place for fear that maybe somewhere down the road they will be penalized for that?

GREENBERG: That's right. That's right. And the researchers referred to chilling effects where the number of people who don't apply for assistance or drop out of assistance is much greater than those who are directly affected by the rules.

KELLY: Let me get your reaction to the rationale that has been laid out for this. The Trump administration says all it's trying to do is make sure that government benefits don't end up being a magnet that attracts more people to this country. What is your reaction to that argument?

GREENBERG: This effort really appears to be an effort to discourage immigrants from receiving benefits that they're eligible to receive and that are needed for families.

KELLY: If I hear you correctly, you're arguing that a motive for this is discouraging legal immigration to the country.

GREENBERG: The proposals really will have two kinds of effects. One is around discouraging immigrants from receiving public benefits. The other is giving the administration much broader discretion in deciding who can come in and who can get a green card.

KELLY: Should we make anything of the timing, that this proposal is supposed to be submitted for review in the weeks as we head into midterm elections in this country?

GREENBERG: We know they've been working on this for a long time. And they had originally targeted issuing this in July. At the same time, it is striking that it's coming out in September and that it will be spurring discussions around immigrants and use of public benefits in the weeks leading up to the elections.

KELLY: Mark Greenberg of the Migration Policy Institute here in Washington. Thank you for coming by.

GREENBERG: Thanks very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.