Senator works to be sure legal residents get housing
With several Island affordable housing projects attempting to put up homes for low-income families, state politicians are working on two fronts to protect legally documented residents who apply for reduced housing, from not being displaced in favor of illegal aliens.
State Senator Robert Hedlund is working to add an amendment to the fiscal year 2007 budget that would ensure that legal American residents applying for public housing are not overlooked in favor of illegal aliens.
The amendment passed unanimously in the senate, but Ted Langill, chief of staff for Senator Hedlund, said there is some indication that the amendment would not be part of the final budget. The budget is due July 1, and the amendment is awaiting approval by the house.
In case the amendment is not included in the fiscal budget, the senator filed legislation last Thursday that contains the same language as the amendment.
The amendment contains nine other conditions that would make it more difficult for illegal aliens to operate in the state without proper documentation. It would require illegal aliens to verify their immigration status before appearing in court, prevent the hiring of illegal aliens by the state, and establishes a toll-free calling system for individuals to confidentially report employment of unauthorized aliens.
Currently, employers are only required to comply with federal regulations, and there are no state policies that require employers or affordable housing committees to check the legal status of applicants.
"We, as legislators, need to take a hard stance to address these violations of state or federal laws regarding employment and immigration," Senator Hedlund wrote in a recent press release. "Doing nothing is a slap in the face to the hard-working men and women of Massachusetts who go to work every day, pay their taxes and play by the rules."
David Vigneault, director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, said legal residency is checked through financial and reference records of applicants for rental or purchase properties. The housing authority approves naturalized citizens, individuals with permanent worker status and people who are "well into the process" of legalization. Mr. Vigneault said the last category is often a grey area.
Sponsorship from employers or legal letters of process status help determine if the applicants is close to legal citizenship. "As it stands now, all of our tenants are either completely legal or well into the process," Mr. Vigneault said.
He added that with a recent purchase of a building the housing authority had inherited a few undocumented occupants, who would be allowed to stay on the property until the fall, by which time they would have to find new housing. "It is a changing field," Mr. Vigneault said. "And we are working with lawyers to tighten this regulation."
At the Oak Bluffs selectman's meeting Tuesday night, the Island Housing Trust awarded two houses at the blinker light to families that fit the set criteria.
The Oak Bluffs Resident Homesite Committee is also moving along in the process of awarding six pieces of property to eligible town residents.
Committee chairman Jim Rankin said they did not put a specific clause in the application that requires an applicant to be a legal resident. "We check the voting records, so we didn't think it was necessary to have both," Mr. Rankin said. "But if it were a law, we would add that line or have everybody give us something that says they are a US citizen."