DETROIT (AP) — Michigan's health chief said Tuesday he doesn't want "harmful misunderstandings" surrounding new federal rules to discourage immigrants from applying to receive state public assistance.
The U.S. government will start to consider whether green card applicants seeking legal status have received Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers and other forms of public assistance in mid-October. The move, announced in August , is part of the Trump administration's aggressive plan to restrict legal immigration, steering the country toward a system that focuses on immigrants' skills.
Robert Gordon heads the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. He said he warned officials who administer benefits programs about the various exemptions to the policy for specific categories of immigrants, urging staffers not to discourage anyone from applying.
"These misunderstandings deter individuals from seeking help even though they are eligible for assistance," Gordon wrote in an open letter. "They will benefit from assistance, and their immigration status will not be affected by getting assistance."
Immigrants who are citizens or have green cards won't be affected by the rule, along with victims of human trafficking, refugees and asylum applicants, according to Gordon. Pregnant women and children receiving Medicaid will also remain unaffected.
State officials said Tuesday that of the nearly 301,000 non-citizens who reside in Michigan, more than 86,000 were receiving public assistance as of last month. The state estimates about 600 of that number could be directly affected and may find a tougher path to legal permanent residency if they continue receiving public benefits.
Federal law already requires those seeking to become permanent residents or gain legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the U.S., what federal officials call a "public charge."
Under the new rule, green card hopefuls will be required to submit three years of federal tax returns in addition to an employment history. If applicants have private health insurance, that will weigh heavily in their favor.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said the rule change will ensure those who come to the country don't become a burden, though they pay taxes.
"We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient," Cuccinelli said. "That's a core principle of the American dream."
But immigration advocates argue the rule expands the government's ability to deny visa renewal or permanent residency to anyone using a range of short-term benefits without a clear formula for making the decision.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and 12 other attorneys general in August sued the U.S. Department of Homeland Security over the new rule.
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