BOSTON — Immigrant rights groups want the Biden administration to rescind a policy that requires people seeking to live in the U.S. to show they won’t be a burden on taxpayers, saying the regulations hurt families seeking health care, housing and other public assistance.

President Joe Biden pledged on the campaign trail to repeal the “public charge” rule, and his administration has begun the legal process of reviewing the policy put in place by his predecessor. A report is due in 60 days.

The two-year-old policy was one of former President Donald Trump’s executive actions aimed at curbing legal and illegal immigration. Trump’s rules changed how the government determines if an immigrant is likely to need public assistance such as food stamps, housing and Medicaid, ostensibly making it more difficult for certain low-income immigrants to secure permanent residency status or visas.

Immigrant advocates say the rules are discriminatory, and many families have put off seeking assistance during the pandemic for fear of jeopardizing their status.

“It created a real sense of fear in the immigrant community, which still exists,” said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. “And that made it very challenging for immigrants to access virus testing, health care and other medical services.”

Millona said advocates want Biden to repeal the policy, and they’re also hoping for action on cases before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that may have been affected by Trump’s immigration restrictions.

Federal law has long required immigrants seeking residency status to prove they won’t be a “public charge.”

At the time, the Trump administration argued that its changes to the rules, which didn’t apply to refugees or asylum seekers, would encourage “self-reliance and self-sufficiency” among new arrivals.

Those changes prompted a flurry of lawsuits, including one by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. The policy was halted for a while but later restored.

It has survived myriad other legal challenges.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker also opposed the changes, and several of his cabinet officials wrote to the federal Department of Homeland Security urging it to reconsider.

But groups that support tougher immigration restrictions say rescinding the policy will increase the financial burden on states to provide for low-income immigrants.

“The immigrants we admit should be self-sufficient, and the government has to have a way to determine that,” said Jessica Vaughn, director of policy studies at the Washington D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies.

“Right now, we know our immigration system is failing in that measure, because our research shows that about two-thirds of immigrants are accessing some form of welfare program,” she said.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. 

 

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