People experiencing homelessness who are also unauthorized immigrants face extreme marginalization. Some undocumented immigrants come to the United States fleeing violence, political unrest or environmental disaster. Others hope to rejoin family, escape a life of poverty or seek opportunity and freedom. For most, our broken immigration system gave them no legal way to come here.
All migrants are separated from the bases that normally support survival: home, family and community. So, they may have an increased risk of homelessness. Many undocumented immigrants don’t know their rights and fear deportation. Because of this, some are reluctant to seek housing assistance when they need it.
But housing is a human right. Immigrants have rights to some housing programs that get funding from the federal government. Here at Shelter, no potential participant is required to produce–or even asked for–verification of their citizenship status.
Shelter complies with the federal Personal Responsibility And Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), a welfare reform legislation passed in 1996. According to PRWORA, Shelter, as a nonprofit charitable organization providing federal public benefits, we aren’t required to verify the eligibility of program participants.
Since we don’t have to ask about immigration status, we don’t. In this way, we—and other nonprofits like us–can help create a safer environment for immigrants who are seeking services.
Immigrants: Current Political Climate
Since President Trump signed executive orders on immigration policy, immigration officials can pursue and prosecute more undocumented immigrants. Last month, several undocumented immigrants leaving a hypothermia shelter located in a church in Virginia were apprehended. Shelters around the nation want to protect the rights of at-risk clients. And they want to be ready for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) actions.
ICE still adheres to a “sensitive location policy.” It prevents immigration enforcement actions like arrests, interviews, searches and immigration-only surveillance at certain places. This includes schools, places of worship, hospitals, public religious ceremonies, and public demonstrations without prior approval–unless some circumstances create urgency. Note that those apprehended from the Virginia shelter were taken when they were across the street, off the church property. A shelter like ours is not exempt.
At Shelter, we don’t give out information about the individuals staying with us unless they have specifically signed a release of information permission statement for us to keep on file. This is because we believe people have a right to privacy. In many cases this anonymity is necessary to protect them from potential abusers or other people who may take advantage of them. But, beyond that, we simply believe people have a right to privacy. We don’t have the right to take that from them.