- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The Trump administration is proposing a new rule to try to block some 32,000 illegal immigrant-led families from claiming public housing assistance, saying it’s unfair to hundreds of thousands of Americans who are stuck on waiting lists.

Housing and Urban Development notified Congress Wednesday of the new rule, kicking off a schedule of publication and notice and comment that could have the plan finalized later this summer.

The plan would scrap Clinton-era regulations that allowed illegal immigrants to sign up for assistance without having to disclose their status.

Under the new Trump rules, not only would the leaseholder using public housing have to be an eligible U.S. person, but the government would verify all applicants through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) database, a federal system that’s used to weed illegal immigrants out of other welfare programs.

Those already getting HUD assistance would have to go through a new verification, though it would be over a period of time and wouldn’t all come at once.

“We’ve got our own people to house and need to take care of our citizens,” an administration official told The Washington Times. “Because of past loopholes in HUD guidance, illegal aliens were able to live in free public housing desperately needed by so many of our own citizens. As illegal aliens attempt to swarm our borders, we’re sending the message that you can’t live off of American welfare on the taxpayers’ dime.”

Illegal immigrants’ access to taxpayer-funded welfare and other benefit programs has long been controversial.

It was considered a non-starter for Democrats when they wrote Obamacare a decade ago, and they excluded illegal immigrants from the health law. But the party’s attitude has changed and now some Democrats are pushing to expand the 2010 law to include unauthorized migrants.

Polling, though, suggests Americans remain opposed to public benefits flowing to illegal immigrants, and President Trump has suggested it’s time to crack down on loopholes and interpretations that have allowed them to do so.

In the case of Section 8 housing assistance, there are competing laws that have created confusion.

In 2017 the HUD inspector general investigated illegal immigrants in New York who were using public housing under a special program for people with HIV or AIDS, and found that the government had never clearly stated whether housing was a federal public benefit subject to a 1996 ban for unauthorized migrants.

Further complicating matters, Clinton-era rules specifically allowed “mixed” immigration status families to gain housing benefits. As long as one person in the home is an eligible U.S. resident, a family can qualify. The eligible person doesn’t need to be the head of the household, and could even be a minor child.

The government created a system that allows people to apply for housing assistance as “non-contending,” meaning they decline to say whether they were legally in the country. Benefits are supposed to be adjusted on a pro-rated basis to account for those non-contenders.

The new HUD proposal is likely to draw opposition from immigrant-rights activists who say penalizing mixed-status families means hurting the legal residents in those families, who are often young children.

A similar argument is playing out in a debate over certain tax credits that, while claimed on behalf of citizen children, are paid to illegal immigrant parents.

GOP-led efforts to tighten those tax rules have met with stiff resistance.

Yet the administration argues the lengthy backlogs for housing assistance makes the new HUD proposal an obvious change.

Only one in four families who would qualify for housing assistance actually get the benefit right now, and most of those waiting for HUD help are likely poor seniors or people living with a disability.

The average waiting time nationally for housing assistance is 26 months. In places like Los Angeles, it’s more than four years.

Singer and actress Cher seemed to take notice of the challenge in a tweet earlier this week.

“I understand helping struggling immigrants,” she said, “but my city (Los Angeles) isn’t taking care of its own.”

She pointed to 50,000 citizens she said were living on the streets, are below the poverty line and go hungry.

“If my state can’t take care of its own … how can it take care of more,” Cher wondered.

Mr. Trump approvingly retweeted Cher’s post.

“This proposal gets to the whole point Cher was making,” the administration official told The Times.

• Stephen Dinan can be reached at sdinan@washingtontimes.com.

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