Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli defended a new Trump administration rule that will force immigrants to prove they won’t go on public assistance — and threw a few digs at reporters while he was at it.
In a press conference on Monday, Cuccinelli swatted back questions about how the rule change conflicts with his Catholic faith and stokes racism against the Latino community.
“The divisiveness will be more rhetorical,” Cuccinelli said in response to a question about whether Latino immigrants should feel targeted by the rule change. “I hope you all help that with your reporting.”
He said that the Trump administration wants to ensure that immigrants becoming permanent citizens don’t end up relying on public assistance.
“We do want to avoid, looking to the future, a situation where people who are adjusting [immigration] status do in the future become dependent on those public benefits,” Cuccinelli said. “We certainly expect immigrants of any income to stand on their own two feet.”
The rule, which USCIS will implement on October 15, expands an existing law that requires people seeking permanent residency status to prove that they won’t be a financial burden to the government.
Under the Trump administration’s new rule, immigration officers reviewing green card applications will assess how much money in public benefits the applicant has used, and identify people who are “more likely than not” to rely on public assistance for more than 12 months within a 36-month period.
Pulling up "bootstraps"
The use of subsidized housing, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, and some medical benefits through Medicaid will all “bear heavily against” people applying for permanent residency or temporary visas, Cuccinelli said.
His agency estimates that it will apply to nearly 400,000 people annually.
The rule “ensures self-reliance and self-sufficiency for those seeking to come to or stay in the United States,” he continued, adding that, for generations, immigrants have “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to pursue their dreams and the opportunity of this great nation.”
But Cuccinelli could not tell reporters at the press conference how the government or citizens would benefit from the rule change, giving one reporter a perfunctory “no” in response to a question about whether USCIS has estimated how much money the rule change will save the U.S. annually.
“The benefit to taxpayers is long term,” he said, declining to give specifics. “The modern welfare state is so expansive and expensive.”
Cuccinelli said that services designed to support children and pregnant women, including emergency medical assistance, disaster relief, certain food assistance, children’s health insurance, Medicaid for people under 21 years old, and the federal preschool program Head Start will not count against applicants.
The rule will also not affect refugees or people applying for asylum.
During the press conference, a reporter pointed to words from The New Colossus, the poem inscribed on a plaque attached to the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” it reads.
“Is that sentiment still operative?” the reporter asked.
“I’m not prepared to take anything down off the Statue of Liberty,” Cuccinelli said.
He also declined to talk extensively about mass Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in Mississippi last week that saw immigration officers round up 680 immigrants across seven food processing plants.
“I think you can expect to see more of that as part of the message from this administration,” he said.
Cuccinelli also said that President Trump will make a determination by the end of September how many refugees the U.S. will allow into the country next year.
Cover: Acting Director of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli speaks during a briefing at the White House August 12, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)