On April 11, 1968, following Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act (FHA) which was designed to secure the right to housing no matter their race, color, national origin, disability, familial status, sex or religion.
The FHA protects people from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance or engaging in other housing-related activities, including obtaining federal housing assistance through public housing or a housing voucher. The FHA does not only prohibit discriminatory actions, but it also protects people from policies with a discriminatory effect.
In May, President Trump signed an Executive Order demanding agencies “adopt policies to ensure only eligible persons receive benefits.” In response, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is proposing a rule requiring every single family member in federally assisted housing to have their immigration status screened by the Department of Homeland Security. According to HUD’s own analysis, this rule could lead to 55,000 U.S. citizen children facing eviction.
This new rule targets “mixed status” families and would lead to the punishment of documented immigrants and U.S. citizens. A mixed-status family is a household including some members who are eligible for public assistance and some who are not, based on their immigration status. An undocumented immigrant cannot qualify for public housing, and undocumented immigrants living in a family member’s public housing unit do not receive federal benefits. In mixed-status families, public subsidies are only provided to eligible household members. The family pays a prorated market rent for all non-eligible family members in the household.
HUD Secretary Ben Carson portrays this new rule as a way to help low-income Americans and increase access to affordable housing, but as previously explained, undocumented immigrants are already prevented from receiving public benefits. HUD’s proposed rule will obliterate affordable housing options for many eligible low-income Americans. If just one resident’s immigration status is undocumented, the new policy will effectively block everyone in their household from receiving any housing benefits. It’s important to remember that immigrants may have legal status, yet still be ineligible for public assistance programs. Thus, even legally documented immigrants would be put at risk by this rule.
In a letter to Secretary Carson demanding the rule’s retraction, House Financial Services Committee Members wrote, “this cruel and needless targeting of struggling immigrant families only contributes to historic patterns of inequality.”
It is abundantly clear this rule will have a discriminatory impact on families from other countries, regardless of their legal status. America is home to many cultures; at our core, we value and root for those individuals looking towards “The American Dream.”. Yet, again this administration has found another way to target individuals based on national origin, and separate immigrant families undermining the purpose of the Fair Housing Act.
As a girl, my mother would tell me, “no eres ni de aquí, ni de allá,” meaning “you are not from here, nor are you from there.” This is a sad reality for many immigrant Americans, particularly the Latino community, which appears to be a primary target of the Trump administration.
I urge everyone to stand up and not let this administration redefine who we are as a country.
Rose Ramirez is the Civil Rights Investigator at NCRC