American Renaissance

Illegals Escape Subsidy Scrutiny

S.A. Miller, Wash. Times, Apr. 5

Arlington and Montgomery counties are the only local jurisdictions that do not check the immigration status of applicants for local housing subsidies, allowing illegal aliens to receive taxpayer-funded rent assistance.

Montgomery County spends about $3.7 million a year on rent assistance for 1,600 households, and Arlington County spends about $2.4 million a year on housing grants for 680 households.

Neither county verifies the immigration status of the head of household or of household members who get help in paying rent. Officials in the District and Fairfax, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties said they check the immigration status of applicants for local housing-assistance programs. Montgomery County, however, relies on applicants to voluntarily disclose whether they are legal residents.

“If you say that you are a citizen, then we don’t check,” said Nancy Fink, who manages the rental-assistance program for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services.

“If anything ever came to light, we will then go to them and ask them to provide [documentation],” she said. “We do everything possible to make sure that everything is on the up and up.”

Arlington County does not screen applicants to see if they are in the country legally, said Susanne Eisner, deputy director of the county’s Department of Human Services.

Of the estimated 7 million illegal aliens in the United States in 2000, about 103,000 lived in Virginia and 56,000 in Maryland, according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Immigration researchers estimate that the number of illegal aliens has surged to about 10 million today and that 34,000 of them receive rent assistance as heads of households.

Miss Fink said her agency does not run applicants’ names through the USCIS’ alien-status verification database, an eligibility test required for recipients in the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Choice Voucher Program — a rent subsidy formerly known as the Section 8 program.

Since 1995, local governments that administer the federal program have been required to check immigration status, and the system is available to check applicants for local programs.

But agencies that use state or county funds to pay housing subsidies make their own rules, and jurisdictions like Montgomery and Arlington counties opt not to use the database.

“The county certainly has an obligation to do certain things in the area of affordable housing, but I don’t think the county is responsible for providing housing to people who are here illegally,” said Wayne Kubicki, a Republican appointee to the Arlington County Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission, which reviews budgets and other fiscal matters for the Arlington County Board.

Mr. Kubicki said the county’s Housing Grants Programs is expected to spend more than $3 million this year, about $900,000 over budget. Scores of needy residents have been placed on a waiting list for one of the program’s 680 slots, he said.

“Since the program has a waiting list, it is possible that some households are here illegally and received aid at the expense of households that are here legally,” Mr. Kubicki said. “These are good old Arlington taxpayer dollars.”

Neither he nor anyone else would estimate how many illegal aliens could be taking advantage of Montgomery and Arlington counties’ rent-subsidy programs.

Immigration rights activists say that barring illegal aliens from housing-subsidy programs deprives residents of basic human rights and threatens to break up families.

“Denying the right to have housing just because of immigration status harms the entire community,” said Betty Canton-Self, executive director of the San Francisco-based Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights. “It harms family stability and harms values of our communities.”

Steven A. Camarota, director of research for the D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, said the burden of illegal immigrants on housing-assistance programs is relatively small, compared with the cost of providing health care for uninsured illegal aliens, which is estimated to cost as much as $7 billion a year.

He said it is wrong to allow immigration status to go unchecked for rent subsidies, despite his estimate that about 34,000 of the 2.7 million U.S. households receiving rent subsidies are headed by illegal immigrants.

“Even though the number is small, it’s not zero and people should be upset about it,” Mr. Camarota said. “There is a limited amount of funds available to help low-income Americans. The fact that illegals are getting it means they do so at the expense of native-born Americans and legal immigrants.”