Aug. 12 (UPI) -- The American Heart Association has called a new decision to keep illegal immigrants from receiving publicly-provided healthcare benefits "catastrophic."
The public charge policy, finalized Monday by the Department of Homeland Security, is a new rule that will allow immigration officials to deny green cards to illegal immigrants who rely on food stamps, housing vouchers, Medicaid and other types of public assistance.
The 800-page rule change, which will be published Wednesday in the Federal Register, will take effect in October.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will now be able to evaluate an applicant's age, education level, financial resources, as well as the need for welfare benefits before granting permits to work in the United States.
"This rule allows our government to discriminate against individuals based on their health status or the health of a member of their family," the AHA said in a statement. "Simply put, implementation of this rule will harm the health and well-being of immigrants, their families, and the communities in which they reside."
The AHA says programs like Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP and Section 8 were intended for the most at-risk legal immigrants who otherwise couldn't afford to gain access to healthcare, nutrition and housing. This new rule, the organization says, would hurt the health and well-being of these vulnerable immigrants and their families.
This change is a part of an overall push from President Donald Trump to deny illegal immigrants access to federal programs.
"For over a century, the public charge ground of inadmissibility has been part of our nation's immigration laws. President Trump has delivered on his promise to the American people to enforce long-standing immigration law by defining the public charge inadmissibility ground that has been on the books for years," said Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, in a news release.
National Immigration Law Center, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group, has announced plans to file a lawsuit opposing the new rule.
"We look forward to seeing Trump in court -- again -- and to seeing justice prevail as we defend immigrant families and our democracy," said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the NILC, in a news release.
A recent report estimated this rule change could prevent 1.9 million children from receiving public healthcare and food assistance.
The Centers for Immigration Studies reported about 63 percent of non-immigrant households currently receive welfare benefits.
"We continue to oppose this change to public charge policy. The restrictions it places on access to critical support services, and the health consequences that will occur as a result, are short-sighted and not in our nation's long-term best interest," the AHA said.