On the Same Day Donald Trump Introduced 'Public Charge' Rule Likely to Curb Legal Immigration, Justin Trudeau Pledged $20 Million to Encourage It

As the Trump administration laid a fresh barrier in the way of low-income immigrants hoping to secure a legal pathway into the U.S. with the introduction of its controversial "public charge" rule on Monday, Canada's government appeared to take a step in the opposite direction, pledging more than $20 million in legal aid funding for immigrants and refugees.

On Monday afternoon, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli announced the release of the "public charge" rule, which seeks to broaden the definition of who can be considered a "public charge," or someone who relies on government assistance through public benefits," to the likely detriment of certain low-income immigrants.

Under the new definition, the expected use of government benefits, including housing, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), could serve as a strike against immigrants hoping to obtain green cards or temporary visas to stay in the U.S.

Speaking at a White House press briefing Monday morning, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli claimed that the rule would help promote "self-reliance" among immigrants.

"Throughout history, self-reliance has been a core principle in America," Cuccinelli said. "Through the public charge rule, President Trump's administration is enforcing the ideals of self-sufficiency and personal responsibility."

Immigration and family advocates have been quick to condemn the measure, however, asserting that it unfairly targets low-income immigrants and families who are in need of support–not additional restrictions.

"It is simply a lie for the Trump administration to claim that the public charge rule...is about promoting self-sufficiency among immigrant families," said Donna Norton, the vice president of family advocacy group MomsRising in a statement sent to Newsweek.

"This rule is designed to wage war on immigrants by weaponizing health, housing, nutrition and other essential programs that allow hardworking moms and families to thrive," Norton said. "Forcing families to choose between the services they need and the families they love is short-sighted, cruel, dangerous and simply unacceptable."

"By putting admission to the United States and green cards at risk if an immigrant's family uses Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), or Section 8 rent vouchers, this rule will increase child hunger, child poverty, homelessness, poor health outcomes, and racial disparities in our country," she said, noting that the rule change could affect as many as 26 million people, including one in four children in the U.S.

As President Donald Trump and his administration faced accusations of trying to create additional barriers for low-income immigrants, however, Canada's Trudeau government was taking a clear stride in the opposite direction, announcing plans to invest another $20 million (C$26 million—coincidentally around one Canadian dollar for every person affected by the Trump administration's rule) in legal aid funding for immigrants and refugees.

Trudeau announced the injection of funding as the Canadian province of Ontario's leadership decided to slash the budget for provincial legal aid by 30 percent.

The province had argued that the Trudeau administration should be footing the bill for the program, attributing a 158 percent increase in claims over the span of four years to changes to federal immigration policies.

Lawyers representing immigrants and refugees applauded the federal government's decision, with Maureen Silcoff, President of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, thanking the Trudeau government for addressing the "crisis" refugees and immigrants in Ontario have faced after the province "abruptly canceled the refugee and immigration legal aid program in April 2019."

"No one who is facing torture in a repressive regime, no woman who ran away from severe domestic violence in a country without protections, no LGBTQ2S individual who fled to save her life, should be subject to high-stakes legal proceedings without legal counsel," Silcoff said.

"Funding for legal aid's immigration and refugee program has always been shared between the provincial and federal governments. The Ford government's reckless cuts left vulnerable people in crisis." added Raoul Boulakia, a member of the Refugee Lawyers Association of Ontario's Executive. "We applaud this announcement from the federal government, which is right to step in to avoid such irreparable harm to immigrants and refugees."

With a federal election expected to take place in October on the horizon, Trudeau's government has been seeking to resolidify its commitment to welcoming migrants, asylum seekers and refugees into the country, with the Canadian government announcing plans to attract a million immigrants over three years.

In a recent interview with Newsweek, Ahmed Hussen, Canada's immigration minister, sought to reaffirm that commitment, asserting that Canada was "very lucky" to "by and large...have a population that generally supports immigration," despite the "anti-immigrant narratives" being espoused by leadersw in the U.S. and around the world.

Trudeau Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House in Washington, D.C., on October 11, 2017. Saul Loeb/Getty