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HUD Rules Aimed at Illegal Aliens Could Split Families

April 14, 1986|MARK I. PINSKY | Times Staff Writer

Congressionally mandated regulations barring illegal aliens from federally subsidized housing might result in families being separated, a Housing and Urban Development official has acknowledged.

"We don't underestimate the impact on the family," said Steven L. Balis, a HUD staff attorney in Washington. "There's no question there are hard cases," he said.

The new regulations, scheduled to go into effect July 30, require that all applicants for federal rent subsidies and federally subsidized public housing prove their U.S. citizenship or legal status. Those already receiving such benefits will be liable for eviction after Oct. 27, according to regulations published earlier this month.

However, in Orange County as well as throughout the Southwest, where some undocumented workers have lived for decades, families often include children born in the United States who are citizens by birth.

Among undocumented workers in Southern California, "it's very unlikely that you'll find a family where that's not the case," said Nativo Lopez, head of the Santa Ana tenants' rights group Hermandad Mexicano Nacional.

A 1984 study conducted by the University of Texas in Austin found that the same was true of undocumented workers in that state.

Sidney Weintraub, Dean Rusk Professor of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, who directed the study, surveyed nearly a thousand immigrants and found that "the vast majority of the families were mixtures of people who were legal and illegal."

Weintraub suggested that the new regulations contradicted the Reagan Administration's pro-family position and said he was "sort of annoyed that they (HUD) would do something like that," and say, in effect, "the hell with the family structure."

As written by Congress, the purpose of the legislation is to "make sure no person who is ineligible will continue to receive assistance," Balis said.

Ineligible recipients, in this case illegal aliens now living in a federally subsidized apartment, "may not continue to reside in that unit if the family is to continue to receive assistance," Balis said.

"The concept of family is applied quite broadly and generously," Balis said. If the undocumented workers in a family made up of legal and illegal residents move out, the family could then reapply for assistance, as long as all those remaining are legal residents and one family member is at least 18 years old. However, ineligible family members could not subsequently move back into the unit.

"There's a probability that just that will happen," said Lopez, referring to the illegal members of the family being forced to move out.

Responsibility for administering the new regulations will be on local housing authorities, rather than with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the HUD official said. In addition, housing officials said they are under no obligation to report illegal aliens to the INS.

Orange County public housing officials predicted that the overall impact of the new regulations, which have not yet been received, would not be great. Because of extensive documentation already required for public housing assistance, most undocumented workers do not apply, officials said.

Minimal Impact

"We expect the impact will be very minimal," said Art Luna, head of the Orange County Housing Authority, which administers 5,500 units. There are 14,000 units countywide.

Patricia Whitaker, housing manager for the City of Santa Ana, which administers 1,200 units, said she thought the main result of the new regulations would be to require some additional staff time to verify citizenship or residence status.

Officials said the new regulations aren't expected to have much impact on Garden Grove's blighted Buena Clinton section, a 39-acre area where many undocumented workers are thought to live.

Rental Subsidies

In 1985, the area received a five-year, $2-million HUD grant for Garden Grove's Project Self Sufficiency. The program provides rental subsidies of up to 70% and is aimed at enabling residents to develop financial independence. In exchange for the subsidy, recipients must agree to reduce overcrowding and participate in related self-help projects.

"We don't foresee any problem for Project Self Sufficiency," said Dorothy Clobes, of the Garden Grove Housing Authority. Since the program is linked with the Job Training Partnership Act, which has always required citizenship verification, no present recipients should be affected, she said.

Other Buena Clinton residents who will be displaced by revitalization efforts, including plans for an eight-acre industrial park, will not be hurt by the new HUD regulations either, according to Cathy Baranger, the city's housing manager. Those federal funds come from the Uniform Relocation Act, she said, and thus the new regulations "do not pertain to relocation money."

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