• Center for Community Change

Alliances Across Issues: Housing Providers Act to Protect Immigrant Tenants

Around the nation, housing providers are taking steps to protect the rights of their tenants amid the intensification of enforcement and abuse by immigration agents. While attempts to protect the rights of tenants from abuse by law-enforcement are nothing new, they are more important than ever in a time when law enforcement agents, emboldened by a sympathetic presidential administration, are willing to push the limits of their legal authority and in the process infringe on individual rights.

An example of the sort of violations occurring throughout the nation happened recently when ICE agents in full tactical gear approached a family housing complex without a warrant, under the pretext of a search for a resident sex offender (tenant application requirements ensure that no such sex offender lived in the complex). Finding the front desk un-staffed, the heavily armed agents attempted to enter through a ground floor preschool before being discovered and expelled from the building for lacking the legal authority to enter.

Tenant abuses are not limited to just law enforcement officials, however. Landlords are exploiting the growing fear in immigrant communities to raise rents or evict tenants under threat of deportation at record rates. One such case in California involved a landlord threatening a domestic abuse survivor with deportation and separation from her three children if she did not sign a new lease with a rent increase. Another landlord told a mother that if she did not vacate her apartment voluntarily, he would have ICE agents waiting for her at the courthouse when her eviction case went to trial.

Many housing providers are fighting back against these, and other, abuses. Conversation with a number of organizations around the country (who will remain unidentified due to the sensitive nature of the topic) has resulted in the collation of various strategies and initiatives for protecting tenant rights.

Protection against unlawful warrants

ICE has been known to attempt to pass off administrative warrants signed internally by ICE officials as judicial warrants signed by a judge. In truth, an administrative warrant does not give ICE the authority to enter private property without the owner’s consent. While some organizations have trained staff to recognize the difference between administrative and judicial warrants, this can be tricky. Instead, it may be best to follow in the steps of one organization that put signs on every door stating that employees do not have the authority to allow entrance to law-enforcement, and that warrants must first be verified by the Executive Director and his legal counsel to gain access to the building

Know Your Rights Campaigns

For an individual to assert their rights, first they must be aware of what they are. Holding Know Your Rights clinics is an effective way to educate tenants on their rights, and to provide guidelines for how to react when approached by law enforcement or unscrupulous landlords. Beyond clinics, organizations have also put up Know Your Rights flyers and distributed Know Your Rights Red Cards in various languages for tenants to keep on their person.

Access to Legal Resources

Many organizations provide free and low-cost legal assistance to low-income individuals, but people often do not know how to access these resources, especially when there is a language barrier. Partnerships between housing providers and organizations providing low-cost legal assistance provide tenants with easier access to legal expertise.

Family Toolkits

As expedited removal proceedings become increasingly commonplace to fast-track deportations and deny immigrants a hearing before a judge, ever increasing numbers of families broken by the immigration system are thrown into disarray as children lose their mothers and fathers. To decrease the chaos, some groups are helping immigrants put together family toolkits. Family toolkits are personalized guides for what to do if a family member gets detained by immigration, and include listings of who to contact, who will take care of any children, and more. Having a plan in place can help to limit the trauma to children if their parents are taken.

Legislative Advocacy

While less immediate than the above strategies, legislative advocacy is no less important. In response to landlord abuses, California has recently introduced a bill that will prevent landlords from disclosing tenants’ immigration status to authorities. Advocating for the passage of this bill and bills like it nationwide will prove vital to addressing the root of tenant abuse. Similar initiatives include attempts in Los Angeles to stop ICE from impersonating police officers and an Oregon bill to prohibit ICE arrests at courthouses, schools, and health clinics.

It is vital to prepare tenants and staff for possible interactions with law enforcement before they occur, and to make sure that everyone involved knows their rights and responsibilities.

By Kyle Machicado, Emerson National Hunger Fellow