The Trump administration on Monday announced a plan that will make it harder for legal immigrants who use public assistance such as food stamps or Medicaid to obtain a green card.
The latest move to restrict immigration comes on the heels of the record-breaking raid in Mississippi last week where nearly 700 undocumented immigrants were arrested while working at food processing plants around the state.
Acting Director of the Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli said in a press briefing that the administration has revised the public charge inadmissibility rule to ensure immigrants are "self-sufficient" instead of relying on public resources.
The public charge inadmissibility rule has been part of the U.S. immigration law for more than 100 years but the administration on Monday redefined the parameters. A new version was published in the Federal Register on Monday.
The term "public charge" refers to a person who is primarily dependent on the government for subsistence. The revised rule specifies people who receive public assistance like Medicaid, food stamps or housing subsidies.
The final version of the rule will be posted on Wednesday. The new restrictions will apply to applications submitted on or after Oct. 15., according to the USCIS.
Refugees and asylum applicants will be exempt, according to the agency's website. But for the legal immigrants who use public benefits for more than 12 months in any 36 month period, the new plan will make it more difficult to stay in the country and secure citizenship.
Legal immigrants with household income, assets and resources, will have a higher chance of obtaining a green card or citizenship than those who can't show current, recent or future prospects of employment, according to a USCIS fact sheet.
The White House in a press release said it is enforcing a "Clinton-era law" to ensure non-citizens do not abuse the United States' public benefit programs.
The National Immigration Law Center said on Monday it will sue the Trump administration over the new rule.
"This news is a cruel new step toward weaponizing programs that are intended to help people by making them, instead, a means of separating families and sending immigrants and communities of color one message: you are not welcome here," Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said in a statement. "We look forward to seeing Trump in court."
New York State Attorney General Letitia James tweeted that she also plans to sue the Trump administration. "Denying people a path to citizenship simply because they depend on public benefits is patently un-American," she said.
The new plan is exacerbating already heightened tensions around the immigration debate.
Approximately 380 workers remained in federal custody at three different Immigration and Customs Enforcement processing centers in Louisiana and Mississippi after the raids Wednesday. The three centers are Pine Prairie, LaSalle and Adams County, said ICE spokesman Bryan Cox. About 300 had been released, many of them parents, after video circulated of children left in tears because no one was there to pick them up after school.
Cox said the average length of stay in the agency's custody is a "little more than a month," but it would depend on each individual's pending outcome of their case before the court.
Amelia McGowan, immigration attorney at the Mississippi Center for Justice, told CNBC it would take about a month if individuals held in federal custody are able to get a bond. If they are unable to get a bond, the process can take longer, she added.
McGowan and a group of 150 attorneys in Mississippi and nationwide, are organizing to help represent people in removal proceedings in immigration courts.
Democrats have expressed outrage over the raids.
Sen. Kamala Harris on on NBC News "Meet the Press" on Sunday accused the Trump administration of directing the Department of Homeland Security to conduct a "campaign of terror."
On Friday, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform said Reps. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., sent a letter to the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security, requesting documents and a briefing to investigate recent coordinated immigration enforcement actions.
"We are concerned by reports that these enforcement actions on August 7, 2019, left many children — on their first day of school — separated from their parents and terrified because they did not know where their parents were taken and detained," the letter said.
"It appears that these DOJ and ICE enforcement actions are targeting only immigrant workers and not their employers. We are alarmed by the potential serious chilling effect of these enforcement actions close in time to these workers vindicating their rights to a safe working environment."
Multiple media outlets have reported that employers have not been charged.