BOSTON — State leaders and immigration advocates are criticizing new federal rules that will require immigrants to show they won't be a burden on taxpayers, saying the regulations will hurt families seeking health care, housing and other public programs.

The rules, which will be released on Wednesday and go into effect Oct. 15, change how the federal government determines if an immigrant is likely to need public assistance such as food stamps, housing and Medicaid, ostensibly making it more difficult for low-income immigrants to secure permanent residency status or temporary visas.

Federal law has long required immigrants seeking permanent residency status to prove they won't be a burden, or a "public charge."

The Trump administration says changes to the rules, which are not retroactive and do not apply to refugees or asylum seekers, are meant to encourage "self-reliance and self-sufficiency" among new arrivals.

"Throughout our history, self-reliance has been a core principle in America," Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, told reporters Monday. "The virtues of perseverance, hard work, and self-sufficiency laid the foundation of our nation and have defined generations of immigrants seeking opportunity in the United States."

Immigrant advocacy groups say the new rules will make it more difficult for certain low-income immigrants to secure permanent residency or temporary visas, and are concerned about the potential for families foregoing basic services for fear of jeopardizing their status.

"This rule is a perfect example of the wanton cruelty and bigotry that drive this administration," said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, an advocacy group. "It accomplishes two hateful goals at once: To keep out immigrants who are not wealthy on arrival — mainly people of color — and to sow fear in immigrant families and deter them from accessing 'safety net' programs that help keep their children safe, healthy, nourished and learning."

More than 500,000 legal immigrants live in Massachusetts and could be affected by the new rule, according to state officials and advocates.

Georgia Katsoulomitis, executive director of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, said the rule change "will punish low-income, low-wage working immigrants seeking permanent residence in the U.S for accessing assistance for basic human needs."

"This subverts the nation’s long-standing immigration laws and family unification policy, because new immigrants will not be able to meet this radical new income test," she said.

The Massachusetts Medical Society called the rule change "inhumane" and said it will prompt legal immigrants to dis-enroll from programs that support health and nutrition.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker opposes the changes, and several of his cabinet officials wrote to the Department of Homeland Security last year urging the agency to reconsider.

Democratic Attorney General Maura Healey has also weighed in, joining a group of 23 state attorneys general who wrote to federal officials to oppose the recommended changes.

The rules would affect legal immigrants who receive local, state or federal assistance for more than a year in a three-year period before applying for permanent residency.

Immigrant advocates worry the rules will jeopardize their chances of getting legal residency if someone in their family who has legal status gets public benefits, but Cuccinelli told reporters at Monday's briefing on the new rules that that won't affect their chances.

Federal officials will also consider additional factors under the changes that could count against immigrants seeking permanent residency status — including earning an income of less than 125% of the federal poverty level, lacking English proficiency, a poor credit score, or being older than 61 or younger than 18, according to Homeland Security.

Officials will evaluate age, health status, income and as well as factors on a case-by-case basis, Cuccinelli told reporters, and "no one factor alone" will decide an applicant's case.

"What we’re looking for here are people who are going to live with us either their whole lives, or ultimately become citizens, who can stand on their own two feet," he said.

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

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