A Shifted Landscape: Undocumented & Documented Immigrants

Carl Asikainen and Brian Roccapriore, July 2017

Experiencing homelessness can be an enormous challenge for anyone, but can be particularly challenging for individuals who lack legal documentation. As we enter an era of uncertainty in the legal landscape around immigration and immigrant rights, it is important for housing service providers to know their rights and obligations. This workshop by Piper Ehlen, from Homebase in San Francisco, Leslye Orloff, from the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project, and Eve Stotland, from The Door, dispelled many of the myths about who undocumented immigrants are and what they are eligible for.

All the panelists agreed that to help the immigrant population in our system, the most important thing is for individuals and advocate to know their rights. Our homeless providers cannot provide all necessary services alone – and success for this population requires the coordination of a myriad of services including immigration specific legal support. Many avenues of assistance are closed to those who are homeless but lack legal documentation, but advocates and communities have been leveraging resources and educating one another to be able to effectively address threats of deportation.

There are two major laws or sections of laws that address providing housing services to immigrants.   Title IV of the PRWORA/Welfare Reform has two key components that are important to ending homelessness. First, service providers must not turn away any clients based on real or perceived legal status regarding immigration. In effect, everyone must be served regardless of legal status. Furthermore this law exempts all non-profits from having to verify citizenship status in order to provide services. All non-profits!

Section 214 of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1980 addresses Section 8 and Public Housing, including Section 8 Housing Choice, and Project based housing, Public Housing and Sections 235 and 236 which are rental and home ownership programs. Section 214 explains that while many providers believe that to be eligible for this program every member of the household has to be a citizen, that is not the case. Only the HOH has to be a citizen based on this section.

In addition to the above laws regarding housing there are specific protections in place under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was signed by Bill Clinton in 1993 and the latest reauthorization was in 2013 with Barack Obama. This law contains provisions that provide important protections for immigrant survivors of abuse, and as such it is often written about and cited by attorneys at the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project at American University.  An immigrant woman fleeing abuse has rights and protections that could help protect her, particularly in light of the recent emphasis on ICE and immigration activities.

On February 21, 2017 President Trump signed Executive Order 13768 which effectively strengthened the efforts to remove immigrants who are not living here legally.  Wording from this order includes “…ICE will not exempt classes or categories of removal aliens from potential enforcement.  All of those found in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.” From a legal perspective, the safest places which are traditionally considered to be “sanctuaries” are schools, hospitals and places of worship. While these have been historically the safest places, that does not mean ICE will not target these spaces in the future. To report any ICE activity in your community there is a nationwide number to call (1-844-END-1ICE) or you can text information about ICE to 877877 subject WATCHICE.

The 287 G program is a partner and collaborator program of ICE which seeks to partner with local law enforcement agencies. This program makes local police officers effectively ICE agents.  These Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) are being signed across the nation, it is up to local advocates to research and verify if one’s local police are part of the agreement. Often police are reluctant to take this step with their communities, especially those who participate in community policing, but it is an important piece of local relationships to realize and understand.

More information on that can be found in the links provided below, as well as resources about how people can access the services that are available.


Immigration and Shelter Resource Page & Webinar

Home Base

National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project

National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty