Aug. 12 (UPI) -- The Trump administration announced a final rule change Monday that could make it more difficult for low-income immigrants who are legally in the United States to stay, through enforcement of the "public charge" rule.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said at the White House the final rule puts "meat on the bones" of a 1996 order that says immigration officials can take into account whether migrants applying for "green cards" have ever used taxpayer-funded public assistance.
Posted to the Federal Register, the rule will take effect in 60 days.
Cuccinelli told reporters the rule change would benefit both taxpayers and immigrants -- by cutting out the number of migrants receiving federal assistance, and allowing others to "stand on their own two feet" without reliance on a "welfare state."
"Especially in the age of the modern welfare state, which is expansive and expensive, frankly," he added.
Cuccinelli said self-sufficiency has been part of the American immigrant story for more than 140 years, and the rule gives it greater weight -- along with a host of other factors. He self-sufficiency, however, will not be the determining factor.
With the change, immigration officials could also take into account an applicant's financial resources, health, education, skills, family status and age, when determining their legal status.
Cuccinelli said the new rule would affect about 400,000 immigrants each year -- and won't affect those now seeking asylum in the United States. It also cannot supersede any action by Congress.
The acting USCIS head has in the past promised a hard line on immigration, especially with migrants who cross unlawfully. His remarks Monday came just days after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained 680 people at seven plants in Mississippi last week.
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke blasted the directive, declaring it another broad Trump administration attack against migrants.
"Legal. Undocumented. Refugee. Asylum Seeker. The distinctions don't matter to President Trump," O'Rourke wrote on Twitter. "If you're an immigrant, he believes you have no place in this country -- even though, for 243 years, immigrants have made America the greatest nation the world has ever known."
Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, cautioned the change could make a "dire humanitarian impact" on immigration.
"This news is a cruel new step toward weaponizing programs that are intended to help people," she said. "Instead, [they are] a means of separating families and sending immigrants and communities of color one message: You are not welcome here."
"The damage will be felt for decades to come."
The NILC said it plans to sue the administration.
The Urban Institute said research has found the rule will affect a "wide range of citizenship and immigration statuses" because of its uncertain impact.
The America we know was built by hardworking dreamers from all over the world," Democratic presidential candidate Bill de Blasio added. "To our immigrant New Yorkers: We stand with you now and always. To our president: We'll see you in court."