Issues: Other Services
Rising living costs and a dwindling stock of affordable housing has had a serious impact on the Commonwealth's ability to retain immigrant and native-born workers and families. Immigrant and minority households have been the targets of discriminatory and exploitative practices by landlords and real estate and finance professionals, leading to exclusion of immigrants, foreclosures, and neighborhood blight. At the same time, immigrant home-ownership and tenancy have revitalized many cities and towns, bringing stability and investment to communities.
MIRA works to improve immigrant access to housing by advocating for:
Multi-lingual public outreach and education on housing and consumer issues, including: renting, home-buying, financial services, predatory lending, etc. and the provision of a state-produced consolidated multilingual booklet and website of basic information about housing including tenant rights, housing services, applications, and financing.
Investment and promotion of community development by increasing public funding for subsidized housing and developments with a diverse range of incomes and family types
PUBLIC HOUSING DISCRIMINATION UPDATE:
Proposed Discrimination against Immigrants in State Public Housing would Hurt Families and Could Violate Our Constitution.
The current legislative session (2013 – 2014) has seen the filing of a number of proposals that would discriminate against immigrants in public housing participation. MIRA strongly opposes such proposals because they would harm vulnerable residents – in particular many domestic violence survivors, would likely violate state Constitutional Equal Protection requirements, and could subject Massachusetts to expensive litigation.
What would these proposals do?
Most proposals to restrict immigrant participation in public housing are drafted in a way that would effectively prevent residents who do not hold an immigration status eligible for federal assisted housing under 42 U.S.C. § 1436a from accessing state public housing. Many taxpaying immigrants – including many holding a lawful, documented status – would be left out in the cold by these proposals. Although drafted to prohibit the excluded immigrants from receiving “priority” or “displacing” others, these proposals would repeatedly send immigrants to the end of the waiting list, effectively preventing many immigrants and mixed status households from accessing public housing solely because of their immigration status.
Who Would be Harmed by these Proposals?
Immigrants holding statuses ineligible for federal housing assistance under 42 U.S.C. § 1436a would be harmed. Such statuses include, for example:
• Persons granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from Haiti, Syria, South Sudan and other countries to which our federal government has deemed it unsafe to return. Massachusetts is home to the third largest Haitian population of any state, and we have a substantial population of TPS holders from Haiti, including survivors of the 2010 earthquake — some of whom our own government evacuated in the aftermath.
• Victims of serious crimes granted U visas because they are cooperating, or have cooperated, with law enforcement to investigate or prosecute those crimes. Protection for U visa holders is essential to ensure that crime victims come forward and our communities remain safe for all residents.
• Victims of persecution who have applied for asylum on that basis yet are still waiting for a grant of asylum due to extraordinary court backlogs.
• DREAMer youth brought to the United States as children and now finally able to receive Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) made available by the Department of Homeland Security in 2012.
• Spouses of green card holders on approved visas and with applications for green cards pending, and children of green card holders and U.S. citizens on approved visas and applications for green cards pending. Many of these persons have waited years or decades to obtain their visas.
• And many, many others.
Why are these Proposals Dangerous?
• They would effectively deny housing to some of our most vulnerable residents – many of whom have already suffered severe trauma and been repeatedly uprooted. Examples of immigrants who would effectively be prevented from accessing public housing under this measure include many domestic violence victims (for example: U-visa holders); survivors of the Haitian earthquake, Salvadoran or Sudanese civil wars holding TPS; and many others.
• They would compound the dangers domestic violence and trafficking victims face in leaving an abuser by giving their abusers yet another powerful tool of coercion. Domestic violence and trafficking victims are often eligible to apply for status on the basis of the abuse they have survived – including for example a U visa. Yet, immigrants face threats from abusers seeking to prevent them from seeking help and are often reliant on abusers for shelter. Foreclosing all public housing options for currently undocumented victims makes it more likely these victims and their children will remain trapped, unable to apply for status, in violent situations.
• They could tear apart families. If a parent’s immigration status effectively prevented him or her from accessing stable housing, children could be taken away from that parent and placed in foster care. The threat of loss of children to the state is another tool of coercion abusers would use to keep victims trapped in abuse. And taking housing away from domestic violence survivors makes it likely many will end up returning to abusive households.
• These measures could be unconstitutional and could subject our state to costly litigation. A state’s choosing to mimic federal classifications of eligibility in its own state assistance program does not shield it from a court’s finding violations of Equal Protection requirements. In fact, our state’s ending the eligibility of certain immigrants for the Commonwealth Care program in 2009 (through a law that, like this provision, adopted an immigration status categorization scheme used by the federal government for federal assistance) was struck down as unconstitutional in 2012, but not before that measure imposed hardships on state residents wrongfully denied assistance and entangled our state in expensive litigation. There are far better uses for Massachusetts’s resources than defending measures like this against legal challenge.
Food & Nutrition
Low-income households with at least one member who is a citizen or immigrant with legal permanent residency status for at least five years, are eligible for Food SNAP services (food stamps). Households with one citizen or legal permanent resident child (under 18) are eligible without the five year waiting-period. Moreover, individuals or families who apply for Food SNAP benefits are not considered a public charge for the purposes of readjusting status or applying for naturalization.
MIRA works to improve low-income immigrant access to nutritious food by advocating for:
Multi-lingual Public Outreach and Education from the Department of Transitional Assistance and Department of Agriculture including: child nutrition, language access, and debunking myths about Food SNAP & public charge
Eliminating Verification Barriers by addressing the misunderstanding about eligibility rules (i.e. household size, immigration status within household, income, employment history), and removing excess verification practices by DTA offices.
Child Nutrition Re-authorization and FoodSNAP Funding for adequate and healthy nutrition for children and continuation of federal FoodSNAP funding that is crucial for low-income and/or single-parent families.