Since the aid can be viewed as short-term emergency funding, there is no reason to deny immigrants access.
A federal court in Phoenix, Arizona has found the city wrongly barred U.S. non-citizens from coronavirus-related housing benefits.
According to AZCentral.com, the judge found that Phoenix cannot legally exclude “unqualified foreigners” from government-funded coronavirus relief programs by requiring applicants to provide proof of legal immigration status.
The lawsuit was filed by the William E. Morris Institute for Justice and the Arizona Center for Law on behalf of the immigrant groups Poder in Action and the Arizona Dream Coalition. A single Phoenix resident was also included as a plaintiff.
Together they claimed that Phoenix had no right to withhold emergency money from anyone, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
In its ruling, Judge Dominic Lanza, the Court ordered Phoenix to allow non-national immigrants – whether documented or not – to apply for and grant allowances for housing-related expenses such as rent and utilities.
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AZCentral.com notes that federal law generally prohibits the payment of federal benefits to anyone who is not a US citizen or legal resident. In this case, however, the judge found that Phoenix’s assistance programs are best viewed as short-term emergency relief rather than regular cash benefits.
In his ruling, Judge Dominic Lanza said it was best to treat such aid as short-term relief as the money given to applicants cannot be used as cash. Payments are sent direct to landlords, mortgage lenders and utilities.
For its part, Phoenix said it was only trying to expel undocumented immigrants based on its attorney’s interpretation of federal law.
“We need to help as many people as possible during this health crisis,” Phoenix councilor Debra Stark said in a statement Wednesday.
However, not all of the city’s leadership agree with Lanza’s decision. For example, Councilor Jim Waring said he did not believe that Congress intended or wanted anyone who was not a U.S. citizen to have access to coronavirus aid funds.
Still, Waring admitted that the opaque terms that led to litigation could have been avoided.
“If Congress were to write a clearer bill, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” he said.
In a statement, city spokesman Nick Valenzuela said that Phoenix had directed contractors running its aid programs that “citizenship status is no longer a requirement in order to receive coronavirus funding aid for rent and utilities.”
Poder in Action has since posted a social media statement celebrating the victory.
“Do you remember when we sued the City of Phoenix?” The group wrote on Twitter. “WE WON !!! Today the court ruled that the city wrongly excluded COVID aid funds from immigrants. All immigrants should be allowed to apply for aid funds without TOMORROW review of immigration.”
Federal Court: Undocumented immigrants should be eligible for Phoenix COVID-19 relief funds
Phoenix mistakenly excluded immigrants from housing benefits: Richter