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Immigration Officials Warn About Dependence On Government Aid

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During an era of budget cuts and stricter immigration enforcement, many immigrants wonder whether getting public assistance can affect their ability to stay in the U.S.

— Legal immigrants worry that their need for public assistance, like food stamps or low-income housing, could jeopardize their ability to become legal residents (Green Card holders) or U.S. citizens.

San Diego district director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Paul Pierre, warned that there could be some risks to immigrants.

"If you're likely to become solely and completely dependent on public assistance for subsistence, you would be ineligible," said Pierre to a group of social workers and local residents in the City Heights neighborhood. "That is the same whether you're getting an immigrant visa, or you're trying to adjust your status in the United States."

Jennifer Tracy, who focuses on food security issues for the local nonprofit San Diego Hunger Coalition said she has seen a growing number of immigrant clients who worry about asking for public services. But most of them, said Tracy, aren't chronically unemployed nor completely dependent on the state.

"It's surprising how many people at one point or another in their life has gone through a period of poverty, but then eventually they're able to get a job again, their circumstances change," said Tracy. "That's the same for the immigrant community."

Most states are making drastic cuts on welfare, housing, food, disability, and senior benefits. Despite this Tracy says many benefits available to legal immigrants still go unclaimed.

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