The administration of US President Donald Trump announced Monday, August 12 new rules that aim to deny permanent residency and citizenship to migrants who receive food stamps, Medicaid and other public welfare, Gulf News reports.
The change threatens to set back the citizenship hopes of millions of mostly Hispanic migrants who work for low wages and depend in part on public services to get by.
It also appeared to close the door for impoverished and low-skilled migrants outside the country hoping to legally obtain a foothold in the United States.
Announcing a new definition of the longstanding "public charge" law, the White House said hopeful migrants will not be granted resident visas if they are likely to need public assistance.
In addition, those already here and using public services will not be able to obtain green cards or U.S. citizenship.
"To protect benefits for American citizens, immigrants must be financially self-sufficient," Trump said in a White House statement.
The change will affect hopeful migrants and existing legal residents who aim to apply for citizenship.
The ruling could impact many of the 22 million non-citizen legal residents of the country, and the estimated 10.5 million unauthorized immigrants, most long-term residents in both groups.
It immediately was thrown into question by pro-migrant activists planning to sue and from Democrats in Congress who said they would fight it.
"This administration scapegoats immigrants, emboldens white supremacists, and tears families apart. This is racist policy. We will continue fighting to #ProtectFamilies," tweeted Representative Donna Shalala.
The White House said "large numbers" of migrants "have taken advantage of our generous public benefits, limited resources that could otherwise go to vulnerable Americans."
It said half of all non-citizen households include at least one person using Medicaid, the government-run health program, and that 78 percent of households led by a non-citizen with no more than a high school education use at least one welfare program.
"Through the public charge rule, President Trump's administration is reinforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, ensuring that immigrants are able to support themselves and become successful here in America," said Ken Cuccinelli, acting Director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.