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US: Citizenship ban for immigrants using public benefits

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US President Donald Trump's administration announced a new set of rules on Monday aimed at blocking legal immigrants who need public assistance from receiving permanent residency or citizenship.

The new rules are part of the Trump administration's push to move the US towards a merit-based immigration system.

"We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient," Ken Cuccinelli, acting Director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services, said.

What are the changes?

In order to apply for a green card (a permanent residency permit) or citizenship, applicants must prove that they are not a "public charge" or burden on the state.

The new rules expand the definition of a "public charge" to include someone who is "more likely than not" to receive public benefits during a 36-month period.

Under the new regulations, this means that immigrants using the government-run health program Medicaid, housing assistance, food stamps or other public benefits for a certain period of time will be disqualified.

Immigrants who are seeking to come to the US legally will also be blocked from entering the country if they are deemed likely to need public assistance.

The rules will not apply to children receiving public benefits or pregnant women who are on Medicaid. Programs including emergency medical assistance, homeless shelters or disaster relief are also excluded from the rules change.

Targeting immigration

The change could impact the 22 million legal residents who are not yet citizens, as well as an estimated 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants who are long-term residents.

The rules change has also raised concerns that immigrants will no longer seek help or assistance in order to not jeopardize their green card or citizenship applications.

In a statement, the White House said the new rules were aimed at targeting "large numbers of non-citizens and their families" who use benefits.

However, an analysis of census data carried out by The Associated Press found that immigrants make up only a small portion of those receiving benefits in the US and access those services at a much lower rate than US citizens.

Many are already barred from many programs due to their immigration status.

Trump has already taken steps to curb undocumented immigration at the border with Mexico, but has come under fire over controversial measures including family separations, as well as his rhetoric describing the arrival of migrants and asylum-seekers as an "invasion."

rs/aw (AP, AFP, dpa)

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