Washington, Aug 12 (AP/UNB) — Trump administration rules that could deny green cards to immigrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance are going into effect, potentially making it more difficult for some to get legal status in the United States.
Federal law already requires those seeking green cards and legal status to prove they will not be a burden to the U.S., or what's called a "public charge," but the new rules, made public on Monday, detail a broader range of programs that could disqualify them.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officers will now weigh public assistance along with other factors such as education, household income and health to determine whether to grant legal status.
Much of President Donald Trump's effort to crack down on illegal immigration has been in the spotlight, but the rule change is one of the most aggressive efforts to restrict legal immigration. It's part of a push to move the U.S. to a system that focuses on immigrants' skills instead of emphasizing the reunification of families, as it has done.
The rules will take effect in mid-October. They don't apply to U.S. citizens, even if the U.S. citizen is related to an immigrant who is subject to them.
The acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, said the rule change fits with the Republican president's message.
"We want to see people coming to this country who are self-sufficient," Cuccinelli said. "That's a core principle of the American Dream. It's deeply embedded in our history, and particularly our history related to legal immigration."
Immigrants make up a small percentage of those who get public benefits. In fact, many are ineligible for public benefits because of their immigration status.
But advocates worry the rules will scare immigrants into not asking for help. And they are concerned the rules give too broad an authority to decide whether someone is likely to need public assistance at any time, giving immigration officials the ability to deny legal status to more people.
On average, 544,000 people apply annually for green cards, with about 382,000 falling into categories that would be subject to this review, according to the government.
Guidelines in use since 1999 referred to a public charge as someone primarily dependent on cash assistance, income maintenance or government support for long-term institutionalization.
Under the new rules, the Department of Homeland Security has redefined a public charge as someone who is "more likely than not" to receive public benefits for more than 12 months within a 36-month period. If someone has two benefits, that is counted as two months. And the definition has been broadened to include Medicaid, housing assistance and food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Following publication of the proposed rules last fall, Homeland Security received 266,000 public comments, more than triple the average number for a rule change at the agency, and it made a series of amendments to the final rules as a result.
For example, women who are pregnant and on Medicaid or who need public assistance will not be subject to the new rules during the pregnancy and for 60 days after the birth of the baby.
The Medicare Part D low-income subsidy won't be considered a public benefit. And public benefits received by children up until age 21 won't be considered. Nor will emergency medical assistance, school lunch programs, foster care or adoption, student loans and mortgages, food pantries, homeless shelters or disaster relief.
Cuccinelli said the comments resulted in changes that "we think it made a better, stronger rule."
Green card hopefuls will be required to submit three years of federal tax returns in addition to a history of employment. And if immigrants have private health insurance that will weigh heavily in their favor.
Active U.S. military members are exempt. So are refugees or asylum seekers, and the rules would not be applied retroactively, officials said. But the Trump administration also has moved to drastically reduce asylum in the U.S.
The administration recently tried to effectively end the protections at the U.S.-Mexico border before the effort was blocked by a court. It has sent more than 30,000 asylum seekers mostly from Central America back to Mexico wait out their immigration cases.
According to an Associated Press analysis of census data, low-income immigrants who are not citizens use Medicaid, food aid, cash assistance and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, at a lower rate than comparable low-income native-born adults.
In general, immigrants are a small portion of those receiving public benefits. For example, non-citizen immigrants make up only 6.5 percent of all those participating in Medicaid. More than 87 percent of participants are native-born. The same goes for food assistance: Immigrants make up only 8.8 percent of recipients, and more than 85 percent of participants are native-born.
The new public assistance threshold, taken together with higher requirements for education, work skills and health, will make it more difficult for immigrants to qualify for green cards, advocates say.
"Without a single change in the law by Congress, the Trump public charge rules mean many more U.S. citizens are being and will be denied the opportunity to live together in the U.S. with their spouses, children and parents," said Ur Jaddou, a former Citizenship and Immigration Services chief counsel who's now director of the DHS Watch run by an immigrant advocacy group. "These are not just small changes. They are big changes with enormous consequences for U.S. citizens."
The new rules come at a time of increased criticism over Trump's hardline policies and his rhetoric.
On Aug. 3, 22 people were killed and dozens were injured in a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, a border city that has become the face of the migration crisis. The shooting suspect told authorities he targeted Mexicans in the attack.
Critics contend Trump's words have contributed to a combustible climate that has spawned death and violence, but Trump disagrees.
Srinagar, Aug 12 (AP/UNB) — Troops in India-administered Kashmir allowed some Muslims to walk to local mosques alone or in pairs to pray for the Eid al-Adha festival on Monday during an unprecedented security lockdown that still forced most people in the disputed region to stay indoors on the Islamic holy day.
Some protesters demonstrated against the Indian government's surprise revocation of Muslim-majority Kashmir's special status last week. All communications and the internet remained cut off for an eighth day. The streets were deserted, with authorities not allowing any large groups to gather to avoid anti-India protests.
"Our hearts are on fire," said Habibullah Bhat, 75, who said he came to offer prayers despite his failing health. "India has thrown us into the dark ages, but God is on our side and our resistance will win."
Hundreds of worshippers gathered on a street in a neighborhood in Srinagar after the prayers and chanted "We want freedom" and "Go India, Go back," witnesses said. Officials said the protest ended peacefully.
Kashmir police said in a tweet that Eid festival prayers "concluded peacefully in various parts of the (Kashmir) Valley. No untoward incident reported so far." Independent verification of events in the region was difficult because of the communications shutdown.
India's foreign ministry shared photos of people visiting mosques but didn't specify where the photos were taken within the region, which New Delhi downgraded from a state to two federal territories a week ago.
Vijay Keshav Gokhale, the ministry's top diplomat, said communications restrictions "will be gradually eased when we feel the law and order situation improves."
He said most mosques were open but some were not for security reasons.
He told reporters there were "no reports of starvation" and that medical facilities, utilities and banking services were functioning normally.
The security lockdown in India's only Muslim-majority region is expected to last through Thursday, India's independence day. The restrictions had been briefly eased for Friday prayers last week and for shopping ahead of Eid.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and opposition leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari expressed support for people in the Indian-administered portion of Kashmir to have self-determination. Both visited the Pakistani-controlled portion of Kashmir for Eid.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over control of Kashmir, and the first one ended in 1948 with a promise of a U.N.-sponsored referendum in the territory. It has never been held.
Qureshi urged the international community to take notice of "Indian atrocities and human rights violations in Kashmir." He said Islamabad was trying its best to highlight the Kashmir issue internationally and expose Indian "cruelties" in the region.
Thousands of additional troops were sent to the disputed Himalayan region before India's Hindu nationalist-led government said last Monday that it was revoking Kashmir's special constitutional status and downgrading its statehood.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an address to the nation that the move would free the territory of "terrorism and separatism" and accused Indian archrival Pakistan of fomenting unrest.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both. Rebels have been fighting Indian rule in the portion it administers for decades.
Restrictions, security lockdowns and information blackouts are nothing new for Kashmiris. The region witnessed months of clampdowns during massive public uprisings against Indian rule in 2008, 2010 and 2016. However, this is the first time that landline phones have been cut off, intensifying hardship.
Frequent separatist calls for general strikes and protests are routinely met with security lockdowns.
Kashmiris have learned to figure out ways to survive the hardships of incarceration inside their homes. Residents are also used to stockpiling essentials, a practice usually undertaken during harsh winter months when roads and communications lines often remain snapped.
Over a million people live in the area under security siege in Srinagar.
Residents have begun to face shortages of food and other necessities as shops remain shuttered and public movement is restricted. Parents have struggled to entertain their children who are unable to go to school. Patients have faced shortages of prescription drugs.
Authorities say they have made cash available in ATMs so that residents could take out money to buy essentials for Eid.
Copenhagen, Aug 12 (AP/UNB) — A suspected gunman accused of an attempted terrorist attack on an Oslo mosque and separately killing his teenage stepsister appeared in court on Monday looking bruised and scratched, but smiling.
The suspect did not speak, and his defense lawyer Unni Fries told The Associated Press he "will use his right not to explain himself for now."
Philip Manshaus, 21, was arrested Saturday after entering a mosque in Baerum, an Oslo suburb, where three men were preparing for Sunday's Eid al-Adha Muslim celebrations. Police said he was waving weapons and several shots were fired but did not specify what type of weapon was used. One person was slightly injured before people inside the Al-Noor Islamic Center held the suspect down until police arrived on the scene.
Police then raided Manshaus' nearby house and found the body of his 17-year-old stepsister. He is also suspected in her killing, police said, but did not provide details.
The head of Norway's domestic security agency said Monday officials had received a "vague" tip a year ago about the suspect, but it was not sufficient to act because officials had no information about any "concrete plans" of attack.
Hans Sverre Sjoevold, head of Norway's PST agency, told a news conference that the agency and the police receive many tips from worried people every day and the information "didn't go in the direction of an imminent terror planning."
The suspect's lawyer declined to comment on Norwegian media reports that Manshaus was inspired by shootings in March in New Zealand, where a gunman killed 51 people, and on Aug. 3 in El Paso, Texas, which left at least 22 dead.
The suspect smiled as he appeared in court Monday with dark bruises under both eyes and scratches across his face and neck. Police had said that he was prepared to cause deaths and more injuries but didn't succeed because people inside the mosque helped neutralize him.
Dagbladet, one of Norway largest newspapers, reported that on day of the attack, Manshaus wrote online he had been "chosen" by "Saint (Brenton) Tarrant", the Christchurch gunman.
The name of the Oslo mosque is similar to the one in the New Zealand attacks.
Prosecutors want him held on terror charges for four weeks.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg called the attempted attack a "direct attack on Norwegian Muslims."
The suspect's thwarted plans recall those of the Norwegian right-wing extremist who in 2011 killed 77 people in 2011. Anders Behring Breivik is serving a 21-year prison sentence for carrying out a terror attack.
Argentina, Aug 12 (AP/UNB) — Facing widespread discontent over austerity measures and low growth, Argentine President Mauricio Macri was snubbed by voters who appeared to hand a resounding primary victory to a ticket with his predecessor, Cristina Fernández.
The preliminary results from Sunday's voting suggest the conservative Macri will face an uphill battle going into general elections in October, marking a sharp turnaround from just under four years ago when the country's left-leaning era appeared to be coming to a definitive end.
With 88% of polling stations tallied early Monday, official results gave the presidential slate headed by Alberto Fernández and his vice presidential running mate, Cristina Fernández, about 47% of the votes. Macri and his running mate, Miguel Ángel Pichetto, had 32% — a wide margin that revealed the considerable depth of Macri's weakness, potentially positioning the Fernández team to win in the first round of voting Oct. 27.
To be elected president in the first round, candidates need to finish with at least 45% of the votes or have 40% and a greater than 10-point advantage over the nearest rival. If no candidate wins outright in October, there will be a November runoff.
"We've had a bad election and that obligates us to redouble our efforts so that in October we will continue with change," Macri said in a late night address. "I think it is very important a dialogue continues in this country, and that we continue explaining to the world what it is we want."
Former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna trailed far behind the two front-running slates with 8.4% of the votes, which is still potentially enough support to give him a kingmaker role in the fall. Six other presidential slates also were up for elections in the primaries, but parties that got less than 1.5% of the overall votes cast won't appear on the October ballot.
The pro-business Macri has the support of financial markets and Washington, but has lost popularity amid a deep economic crisis which drove the inflation rate to nearly 50% last year and slashed Argentines' purchasing power. He says he is taking the necessary, painful steps to get the economy going after 12 years of leftist populism under Cristina Fernández and her predecessor and late husband, Nestor Kirchner.
But the electorate issued a resounding rejection of his handling of the economic situation — and a recent lending package from the International Monetary Fund that totaled upward of $55 billion. Most Argentines blame the IMF for encouraging policies that led to the country's worst economic crisis in 2001, which resulted in one of every five Argentines being unemployed and millions sliding into poverty.
"It's clear that Macri's weakest point is the management of the economy, despite the fact that it has improved in the last three months," said Mariel Fornoni, director of the political consultancy Management & Fit.
The Fernández ticket, whose two members are not related, contends Macri must be defeated so they can fight the poverty and homelessness that they blame on his policies.
"We always fixed problems that others generated. We are going to do it once again," said Alberto Fernández, who was Cristina Fernández's chief of staff during her initial term in 2007-2011.
Cristina Fernández is currently facing a series of trials for corruption during her 2007-2015 administration. She denies the allegations.
In a recorded message from the southern province of Santa Cruz, she said Sunday's results made her Frente de Todos party "happy and optimistic."
"But not only because we won an election — this is not a soccer game. Many Argentines understood and understand that things must change in the Republic of Argentina because as we are not living well, we are not OK," she said.
The possibility that Cristina Fernández could return to power put markets on edge. Matías Carugati, chief economist for Management & Fit, said the victory of the Fernández team would put new, "sustained" pressure on the exchange rate and stocks due to the prospect that the South American's recent free, less state interventionist course could be reversed.
Macri's election in 2015 marked the first time in a more than a decade that Argentina's center-right opposition successfully unseated the center-left Peronist movement to which Cristina Fernández belongs.
At the time, his victory appeared to signal a clear end to his rival's rule, but he conceded that Sunday's results put him on the defensive.
"This is an election where Argentina has to determine whether it continues on a path of transformation, of deepening democracy, of insertion into the world, of improvement and development — or returns to an authoritarian populist model that has failed in all places where it has been implemented," he said.
Guatemala City, Aug 12 (AP/UNB) — Conservative Alejandro Giammattei has blazed a long, strange path to Guatemala's presidency, which he won on his fourth try.
The 63-year-old spent several months in prison in 2008, when he was director of the country's prison system, after some prisoners were killed in a raid on his watch. He was eventually acquitted of wrongdoing.
Until courts prevented some of the more popular candidates from running in this year's race, he also appeared to be a long-shot candidate in a tumultuous campaign season.
But on Sunday, his get-tough approach to crime and his socially conservative values, including his strident opposition to gay marriage and abortion, finally parlayed favor with Guatemalan voters in a presidential runoff.
Leaning on the crutches he uses because of his multiple sclerosis, Giammattei acknowledged in his emotional victory speech that it had been a long road.
"We won. We are very excited, it is logical, it has been 12 years of struggle," Giammatttei said. "Twelve years waiting to serve my country."
With about 98% of polling places reporting, the country's Supreme Electoral Council said that Giammattei had about 58% of votes, compared to about 42% for former first lady Sandra Torres.
About 8 million Guatemalans are registered to vote in the Central American country. In a nation beset by poverty, unemployment and migration issues, however, turnout as low as 45% appeared to suggest widespread disillusionment with the political status quo in general.
"I just hope Giammattei keeps his promises, and really fights corruption," said Guatemala City resident Leonel Regalado. "We hope he won't steal, because that would be too much for him to steal as brazenly as (outgoing President) Jimmy Morales has."
The presidential campaign was marked by a chaotic succession of judicial decisions, intrigues, illegal party changes and accusations of bad practices that truncated the candidacies of two of the three presidential favorites.
Giammattei's key rival Torres, who had been married and divorced to former President Álvaro Colom (2008-2012), focused on improving education, health care and the economy during the campaign. She also proposed an anti-corruption program, but her Unity for Hope party came under fire because some of its mayoral candidates were accused of receiving contributions from drug traffickers for their campaigns.
She became a key contender after Chief Prosecutor Thelma Aldana was barred from the race on the grounds that she lacked a document certifying that she didn't have any outstanding accounts from her time overseeing a public budget as prosecutor.
Oscar Argueta, secretary-general of the Unity for Hope party, conceded defeat on Sunday.
The new president takes office Jan. 14 and will most immediately face the task of attempting to stem the large flow of migrants headed toward the United States. At least 1% of Guatemala's population of some 16 million has left the country this year.
On July 6, Morales' administration signed an agreement with the United States that would require Salvadorans and Hondurans to request asylum in Guatemala if they cross through the country to reach the U.S. The new president will have to decide whether to nullify or honor the agreement, which could potentially ease the crush of migrants arriving at the U.S. border.
In addition to migration, Guatemalans say they are most concerned about entrenched corruption. Three of the last four elected presidents have been arrested after leaving office on charges of graft, and Morales himself decided to disband and bar a U.N.-supported anti-corruption commission after he became a target for alleged campaign finance violations.
"The person who wins will have to lead a country that is viewed as a nation losing ground in the battle against corruption, because the mandate of the anti-corruption commission wasn't renewed," said Ricardo Barreno, a political science professor at the Central American Institute of Political Studies.
Rogelio Estrada, a father of two who was one of the first people to vote at a polling station in Guatemala City, had other concerns, too.
He hoped the election winner would focus on combatting crime and unemployment "to keep more Guatemalans from going to the United States."