Experts: New rules for legal immigration could hurt Hawaii

New immigration policies expected to hit Hawaii families and the economy

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some believe a new federal crackdown on immigration could hurt Hawaii’s economy.

The crackdown includes new rules that allow the Department of Homeland Security to turn down green card or visa applicants who are more likely to need government aid.

It’s a “merit-based” system that starts in two months.

“Someone seeking to become a legal permanent resident will be subject to this filter and will have to demonstrate to our career immigration services officers that they can maintain themselves without an expectation that they will go on welfare in the future and be a significant burden to the public,” said acting Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli.

Only Congress can make and change immigration laws. But President Trump can direct agencies on how these laws are implemented. One of Trump’s main goals has always been immigration reform.

"By ensuring that people who come here and immigrate here have the ability and the means to stay on their own feet and be self-sufficient and that self-sufficiency is a core value of the American experience,” Cuccinelli said.

The new rule announced this week will put pressure on immigrants trying to gain U.S. citizenship to prove they won't rely on government aid such as food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid.

At least 13 states are already suing to stop it.

Hawaii immigration attorney Clare Hanusz says the policy is not class-based, but racist and will pull families apart.

"It's going to most likely result in many more people being denied either access to the United States to come in. Or the ability to stay," said Hanusz. "It's another way that the Trump administration has another kind of tool in their toolbox for breaking families apart.”

The rule is expected to impact Hawaii’s 7,300 farms, which employ more than 12,000 workers.

Hawaii’s Farm Bureau says the ruling is shocking and concerning, and will likely make it harder to keep foreign laborers.

"We have a rich history of immigrants coming to Hawaii to work in the agriculture industry. Farming is a tough business. They have razor thin margins, they don’t make a lot of money, especially new farmers,” said Executive Director Brian Miyamoto.

As part of the new rule, Hanusz says immigrants will have to fill out a new 19-page form detailing their education, tax history, reliance on federal funds and more.

Critics say the policy is against the American ideal inscribed on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”

Hanusz calls the new policy shameful.

“Maybe that spouse doesn’t have much of an education, maybe that spouse’s English isn’t so strong, maybe that spouse doesn’t have any kind of work history because she’s been caring for children. All of those things can be used against her, where previously, that was not part of the determination at all,” Hanusz said.

Hawaii’s attorney general has not said if the state will join the legal challenge.

Immigration cases already in the pipeline will not be impacted, but anything after Oct. 15 will.

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