By Daniel Trotta
NEW YORK, Aug 15 (Reuters) - A Trump administration plan to cut legal immigration by poor people will likely result in sicker children, more communicable diseases and greater homelessness in the United States, according to immigrant advocates and the federal government's own analysis.
Under a rule unveiled this week, the administration can reject applicants for temporary or permanent visas if they fail to meet high enough income standards or if they receive public assistance such as welfare, food stamps, public housing or Medicaid.
Legal immigrants are already refusing services they are legally entitled to, whether from government sources or private charities, out of concern they would harm their chances of remaining in the country, according to professionals who provide food, health and housing services.
"This will result in millions of kids losing access to healthcare, housing and nutrition," said Kristen Torres, director of child welfare and immigration for First Focus on Children, a bipartisan group that advocates for pro-child policies before the federal government.
President Donald Trump has made curbing legal and illegal immigration a cornerstone of his presidency, and presented the rule as an effort to prevent people from becoming "public charges" dependent on government support.
The federal government estimates the status of 382,000 immigrants could immediately be reviewed when the new rule takes effect Oct. 15. Immigrant advocates fear the real number could be much higher, with the policy reducing legal immigration by as much as half.
In a notice published in the Federal Register last year, the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged that the consequences of the policy could include increased obesity and malnutrition, especially for pregnant or breastfeeding women, infants, or children; increased prevalence of communicable diseases, and increased poverty.
"The real tragedy of this that young kids are going to be really penalized," said Lisa David, chief executive of Public Health Solutions, a non-profit organization funded mostly by New York City that provides social services such as enrolling women and children in food programs and health insurance.
In Houston, the Episcopal Church outreach center ECHOS noticed a sharp drop in the number of immigrants seeking out its services after Trump took office in January 2017, a trend that continued with subsequent anti-immigration initiatives, executive director Cathy Moore said.
The number of people served by ECHOS who took part in the federal food stamp program fell by 21 percent this year, the group said.
But at the same time it saw a 67-percent surge in the number of people visiting its food pantry, which the group said was a sign that immigrants were forgoing government food aid in favor of the less risky food pantry.
The data is based on 3,509 households served in the first seven months of 2018 and 4,145 in the same period of 2019, most of them Latino and immigrant families, Moore said.
When families eschew the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, the result is hungry kids and malnourished pregnant women, both of which could lead to lead to long-term developmental problems, experts say.
When a proposal of the public charge rule was made public last September, New York's private Public Health Solutions observed a 20 percent drop in SNAP clients.
"People that don't have food security have more illness, they have poorer outcomes, and children certainly don't perform in school," said David, the group's CEO.
The group has regularly seen immigrants shy from seeking its services in response to White House efforts to crack down on immigration, she said.
For instance, the group's clinic in New York's immigrant-rich Corona neighborhood typically sees 15 to 20 patients on a typical Saturday. On July 13, when Trump announced nationwide immigration raids would be begin, none showed up, David said. (Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)
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