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The USDA Wants to Kick Mixed-Status Immigrant Families out of Their Homes

The proposed rule change would affect 415,000 units managed by the Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing Service.

by Morgan Baskin
Jul 15 2019, 4:08pm

WASHINGTON — Months after the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed terminating federal housing assistance for “mixed-status” immigrant families, another agency is planning on doing the same thing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is preparing to roll out an identical rule change for its Rural Housing Service, which manages over 415,000 units of subsidized low-income housing, sources close to the agency tell VICE News.

Like HUD, the agency plans to end eligibility for its program for families where one or more members are undocumented. Under the proposed rule change, families with members that do not have residency or citizenship documents would lose their homes.

The USDA’s program is one of several geared toward revitalizing rural communities and boosting residency in sparsely populated areas. It serves low-income families, many of whom are seniors or who have disabilities. Rural Housing Service also offers direct home loan programs, and subsidizes about 1,000 properties used to house farm laborers.

HUD, by comparison, manages roughly 1.1 million units of public housing.

A regulatory impact analysis of HUD’s proposed rule change produced by the agency’s own employees show that the measure would displace 25,000 families — including up to 55,000 children — and cost the agency between $193 million and $227 million annually.

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Weeks after HUD introduced the proposal, Democratic Texas Rep. Sylvia Garcia successfully ushered a bill to the House floor that would block HUD from implementing the rule. New York Senator and Democratic candidate for president Kirsten Gillibrand has since introduced sister legislation in the Senate.

“Rather than helping our immigration enforcement efforts, this cruel and shameless proposed rule will significantly harm already impoverished children and pass on significant costs to taxpayers,” Garcia said in a June statement about HUD’s proposed rule change.

“USDA doesn’t have very good data on assisted families.”

The Rural Housing Service offers subsidized rental units in each of the 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam, in some of the country’s most remote areas. One property was located as far as Paradise, California, the small town that saw nearly 90 percent of its development torched in a 2018 fire; in Navajo County, Arizona, the agency subsidizes close to 20 rental buildings.

The USDA could propose the rule change as early as August. It’s unclear how many families will be affected by the USDA’s rule change. “USDA doesn’t have very good data on assisted families,” said Diane Yentel, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

USDA indicated in a brief notice quietly posted earlier this spring that it “plans to publish a proposed rule to implement the citizenship requirements and to harmonize [the Rural Housing Service’s] requirements with those currently established by HUD.”

VICE News called the phone number for the program officer listed at the bottom of the notice, posted to the website of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. The Rural Housing Service employee declined to comment on the proposal, saying that she “can’t answer questions about something that hasn’t gone through any kind of channel yet.”

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“USDA routinely reviews regulations and updates them in the Federal Register,” a spokesperson for the agency told VICE News in an emailed statement. The spokesperson did not respond to questions about when the agency plans on formally proposing the rule change or how many residents it would impact.

After a federal agency introduces a proposed regulatory change, there is a public commenting period of 30-60 days, with some commenting periods as long as 180 days. If HUD implemented its “mixed-status” rule in full, the agency has said it would not proceed with enforcing evictions for several months.

The backlash to HUD’s proposed rule change was swift: Over 30,000 people responded to the proposal on the federal register’s website during the public comment period.

Cover: The USDA subsidizes 10 properties in Immokalee, Florida, a rural agriculture town comprised primarily of seasonal farm workers. A soon-to-be-proposed regulatory change could terminate the housing assistance of "mixed status" immigrant families living in communities like these. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Department of Agriculture