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Immigration Status and the Fair Housing Act: What You Need to Know

Posted on 17. Apr, 2018 by

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) of 1968 protects people from discrimination when they look to buy, rent, or secure financing for housing. The FHA prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children. The FHA applies to everyone in the United States, regardless of their immigration status. If a landlord refuses to rent to someone, charges a higher price, or offers different terms on a mortgage because that person belongs to one of those protected groups, that is illegal discrimination regardless of immigration status. It is also illegal to request additional documents from a person based on their race, national origin, or membership in another protected group. This means that a landlord can request a credit check on potential tenants to make sure they’ll be able to pay rent, but only if they perform that check on every potential tenant, not just ones of a particular race or gender. Similarly, landlords are within their rights to ask for identity related documents, but only if they are requesting them from all applicants.

If you believe you are the victim of housing discrimination and you are undocumented, you should not hesitate to file a fair housing complaint. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (the body at the HUD which deals with issues related to the FHA) will not ask about or disclose your immigration status, and neither will the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

What happens if a landlord or neighbor is threatening to report you, a family member, or a friend to ICE in the event that you file a fair housing complaint? Unfortunately, this is where things can get more complicated. It is illegal to threaten or interfere with a person’s exercise of their FHA rights, so the person doing the threatening is breaking the law. However, when immigration authorities are involved, a certain level of apprehension is certainly justifiable.

According to a memorandum by former ICE Director John Morton in 2011, it is “against ICE policy to remove individuals in the midst of a legitimate effort to protect their civil rights or civil liberties” and “to avoid deterring individuals from reporting crimes and from pursuing actions to protect their civil rights, ICE officers, special agents, and attorneys are reminded to exercise all appropriate discretion on a case-by-case basis when making detention and enforcement decisions in the case of victims of crime, witnesses to crime, and individuals pursuing legitimate civil rights complaints.” What this means is that if you are an undocumented victim of a crime, you should be protected from deportation or other legal action taken against you if you report that crime, as long as you yourself don’t have a criminal history.

In today’s political climate regarding immigration, it can be difficult to know how strictly ICE will stick to this policy on a case by case basis. If you come in contact with ICE as a result of reporting an FHA violation, it is important to be clear that you are attempting to protect your civil rights.  Regardless of your immigration status, please do not hesitate to report fair housing violations to GNOFHAC when you see them.

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