CLEVELAND — The immigration debate is intensifying as the Trump Administration takes steps to restrict legal immigration by denying green cards to migrants who use public assistance.
"As a son of an immigrant mother, I think it's un-American," said Joe Cimperman.
For nearly 50,000 people already in Northeast Ohio, the controversial change could cut off access to Medicaid, food stamps and housing vouchers.
Global Cleveland is just one of the organizations that traveled to Washington D.C. to argue against the new rules which target people who entered the U.S. legally.
In order to become a permanent resident of the United States or gain legal status, you already have to prove you won't be a burden to taxpayers.
"Immigrants make up an important part of Northeast Ohio's economy," said Cimperman.
But in October, new rules are set to go into effect expanding the list of government assistance programs that could disqualify someone.
"These policies are for people who did everything right," said Cimperman.
Cimperman just returned from Washington.
"The ramifications of this in Northeast Ohio are devastating," said Cimperman.
His organization, Global Cleveland, strongly opposes the new "public charge" rule.
“These are people who are working in jobs, who are contributing to society, who we think make Cleveland and Cuyahoga County a better place to be," said Cimperman.
The acting Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services said this week that they want to see people coming to this country who are "self-sufficient."
"If you have this idea that they take jobs but they're lazy and so therefore you're going to deny them benefits, it's so lacking in common sense," said Cimperman.
Cimperman told News 5 the change not only makes it harder for low-income immigrants to come to this country, it'll scare those in Northeast Ohio away from asking for much-needed help.
"If you are an immigrant and not yet a citizen and you apply for food stamps, public health care, public housing, it gives our government the right to not only deny your visa but there is a policy being considered right now in Washington that would deport you," said Cimperman.
If they can't get government assistance, Cimperman warned of a crippling strain on places like the Cleveland Food Bank and hospital systems like Metro, that absorb the costs of uncompensated care.
"The fear I have is kids that are going to go without vaccinations, families that are going to go without food on their table. These are people who are legally allowed to be here and what we're saying is you're not welcome anymore. We can't stand for that," said Cimperman.
Global Cleveland says the only way to ensure immigrants won't be affected by the new criteria is to prove a household income above 250% of the federal poverty guidelines.
If that's the case, the Migration Policy Institute estimates some 56% of all family-based green card applicants could be denied.
"Why are we now changing a policy unless what we're saying is we don't just want to stop illegal immigration, we want to stop immigration period. This is not the city that I was raised in, this is not the country that I know to be the United States," said Cimperman.
The new rules will take effect in mid-October.
They don't apply to U.S. citizens, though immigrants related to the citizens may be subject to them.