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Legal Immigrants and Naturalized U.S. Citizens - Beware!

The Trump administration is supposed to issue a proposal in coming weeks that may make it more difficult for legal immigrants to become citizens or secure permanent residence (green cards) if they have ever used a range of popular public welfare programs, including Obamacare.

This measure, which would not need Congressional approval, is part of White House senior adviser Stephen Miller’s plan to limit the number of individuals who obtain legal status in the U.S. each year.
The fine points of the rulemaking proposal are still being ironed out.

What we know, is that it could have serious repercussions on immigrants living legally in the U.S. who have ever used or whose household members have ever used Obamacare, children’s health insurance, food stamps and other public benefits. Immigration advocates and public health researchers state this could affect more than 20 million immigrants.

Note that currently, the government may reject immigrants if they are likely to become public charges or primarily dependent on the government. The last time Congress defined the term “public charge” was in 1999, when it excluded from the definition, access to services like health care and nutrition programs.

The Trump administration’s proposal would not make it illegal to use public benefits programs, but it would authorize government officials to deny applications for permanent residence or citizenship if anyone in the applicants’ households has been a recipient of public benefits.

This proposal targets legal immigrants and their families, and plays into stereotypes and biases about immigrants, how they are all on welfare, how they are a burden on the country, and that they play a system, when the research shows otherwise. Apparently, poor immigrants use public benefits at a lower rate than native born U.S. citizens, and they also pay more into Medicare and Social Security than they withdraw.

Forcing immigrants to choose between permanent residence/citizenship, and the well-being of their families is draconian. Children need proper nutrition, and adults and children need access to proper health care. Children who don’t obtain proper nutrition, will function less optimally in school, and children and adults forced to do without healthcare, can endanger those around them with communicable diseases.

Can you rest easy if you are already a naturalized U.S. citizen? Not quite. The Trump administration has announced a denaturalization initiative. The USCIS Director announced the hiring of attorneys to form a task force to review records of those who became U.S. citizens since 1990, in order to identify people who deliberately lied on their citizenship applications. The Director wants to get to the bottom of these cases and start denaturalizing individuals who in his words, should not have been naturalized in the first place.

The last time denaturalization was a priority was during McCarthyism when the Internal Security Act of 1950 added provisions that stripped away citizenship based on political and antigovernment beliefs.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has recommended that the Department of Homeland Security establish a plan for evaluating the denaturalization eligibility of naturalized citizens whose fingerprint records reveal deportation orders under a different identity. It is reported that the USCIS is going beyond the OIG’s recommended parameters and referring thousands of cases to denaturalization.

Revocation cannot just take place ‘automatically.’ The law sets a high standard for denaturalization- for civil revocation of naturalization, the burden of proof is clear, convincing, and unequivocal evidence which does not leave the issue in doubt.

Still, by signaling that it will go beyond the parameters recommended by the OIG, the Trump administration is making it clear to all naturalized citizens that they are under review and they are vulnerable.

If you have any concerns for yourself, your family members, or friends, after reading this blog, it’s crucial to seek legal advice.

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