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Trump administration reportedly drafting rules to target immigrants who use food stamps

Emily Shugerman

A new proposal being drafted by the Trump administration would reportedly allow immigration officials to consider an immigrants’ use of government programmes when deciding whether or not to grant them permanent status.

The draft rule, seen by Reuters, is a sharp departure from current US law, which prevents immigration officials from taking immigrants’ use of public benefits like food assistance and health insurance subsidies into account when reviewing their application. The rule would not apply to permanent residents seeking citizenship, but would affect the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who apply for permanent status in the US each year.

The proposed rules, drafted by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), argue that legal immigrants who use public programmes are a burden on the state.

“Non-citizens who receive public benefits are not self-sufficient and are relying on the US government and state and local entities for resources instead of their families, sponsors or private organisations,” the document states, according to Reuters.

It continues: “An alien’s receipt of public benefits comes at taxpayer expense and availability of public benefits may provide an incentive for aliens to immigrate to the United States.”

The draft rule has not yet been approved by top leadership. The DHS did not return a request for comment.

Alvaro Huerta, a staff attorney for the National Immigration Law Centre, called the draft proposal "breathtaking in its scope and cruelty".

"This would severely restrict the ability of certain immigrants' families to be able to get by," he told The Independent.

Approximately 1.3m non-citizens used the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) programme, previously known as food stamps, in the 2016 fiscal year, according to the Department of Agriculture.

In early 2017, the Washington Post reported that food banks were seeing a decline in the number of immigrants applying for SNAP, and an increase in immigrants withdrawing from the programme. Advocates said many immigrants feared it would affect their citizenship or permanent residency applications.

“I get calls from concerned parents all the time: ‘Should I take my kids out of the program?’ They’re risking hunger out of fear … and my heart just breaks for them.” Luisa Fortin, the SNAP Outreach Coordinator for the Chattanooga Food Bank, told the Post at the time.

The DHS draft rules would be consistent with Mr Trump’s push to drastically cut legal immigration to the US. Just last month, the president unveiled an immigration plan that experts said would result in the biggest proposed reduction to legal immigration in decades.

The programme would end so-called “chain migration,” preventing US citizens to sponsor relatives from outside the country for a green card. It would also end the diversity visa lottery system, which allows people from countries with low representation in the US to immigrate to the country.

Mr Huerta said the latest draft rule from the DHS marked yet another attempt by the Trump administration to curtail legal immigration.

"Ultimately this is trying to limit family based immigration," he said. "This is trying to make it more difficult to come to the country lawfully, and really – for lack of a better way to say it – make America white again."

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No. 3 Justice Department official stepping down amid turmoil

Sadie Gurman, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department's No. 3 official is planning to step down at a time of turmoil in the agency.

Rachel Brand is leaving for the top legal job at Walmart, friend and former colleague Jamie Gorelick told The Associated Press Friday.

Brand attracted interest because of her potential to assume a key role in the Trump-Russia investigation. The official overseeing special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, has been repeatedly criticized by Trump. If Rosenstein had been fired or quit, oversight would have fallen to Brand. That job would now fall to Solicitor General Noel Francisco.

"She felt this was an opportunity she couldn't turn down," Gorelick said. Walmart sought Brand to be head of global corporate governance at the retail giant, a position Gorelick said has legal and policy responsibilities that will cater to her strengths.

"It really seems to have her name on it," Gorelick said.

President and CEO Doug McMillon said Walmart "is fortunate to have a leader of Rachel Brand's stature join the company."

The New York Times first reported the departure, which comes as the Justice Department has been subject to unprecedented attack by President Donald Trump. His broadsides have strained morale at the institution known for its vaunted independence from the White House.

And her departure leaves another vacancy at the Justice Department, which still lacks Senate-confirmed leaders over many of its most important divisions.

Trump, who has openly lamented his inability to influence Justice Department decisions, has stepped up his criticism in recent weeks, fueled by the release of a politically explosive memo alleging the FBI abused its surveillance powers in the Russia investigation.

Brand, who became associate attorney general in May, has kept a relatively low profile and, unlike other top officials, has not been personally targeted by Trump. Attorney General Jeff Sessions praised the "quality and leadership" of Brand and Rosenstein at a Justice Department event last week that focused on human trafficking, which was one of her stated priorities.

In a statement, Brand said she is proud of the department's accomplishments during her short time there.

"The men and women of the Department of Justice impress me every day," she said.

Brand was also a high-ranking official in the department under George W. Bush. In her current capacity, she oversaw a number of politically challenging areas of the department, including the civil rights, antitrust and civil divisions.

"Rachel has shown real leadership over many important divisions at the department," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Friday night in which he congratulated Brand. "She will always remain part of the Department of Justice family."

She had recently pushed Congress to renew a foreign intelligence surveillance program that gives the U.S. government authority to spy on foreigners located outside the country. And she had been vocal about the department's efforts to support students who say their free speech rights are being violated on college campuses.

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