Let Illegal Immigrants Keep Their Public Housing, Massachusetts House Democrats Say

Printed from: https://newbostonpost.com/2017/04/25/let-illegal-immigrants-keep-their-public-housing-massachusetts-house-democrats-say/

By Katie Lannan

BOSTON — Massachusetts House Democrats on Tuesday beat back a Republican proposal that would have required adult public housing applicants to provide their Social Security numbers or alien registration numbers.

State Representative Shaunna O’Connell, a Taunton Republican, offered the measure as an amendment to the $40.3 billion House budget, telling her colleagues that housing authority directors had asked her to do so and that the move would align state rules more closely with federal guidelines.

O’Connell said current law, which does not require public housing applicants to submit Social Security numbers, allows people who are not in the country legally to be given preference over citizens and those with legal status.

“Think about how many constituents call your office desperate for housing and they cannot get in because there are waiting lists of two, three, and five years long,” O’Connell said. “This is the right thing to do.”

Several Democratic representatives pushed back strongly against the idea. Representative Marjorie Decker of Cambridge called it “mean-spirited” and said would “pile on the vulnerability and the hardship many immigrants already face.”

Decker, who grew up in public housing, said the requirement would displace people rather than creating more opportunities to house people in need.

The House voted 124-36 to adopt a further amendment, offered by Assistant Majority Leader Byron Rushing, calling to instead study the issue. Representative Christopher Markey of Dartmouth said a study would allow lawmakers to make “a deliberate, thoughtful decision” instead of a “political statement” focusing on “a constituency that has this as its one political issue.”

House Republicans criticize Democrats, who make up the majority of the chamber with 125 members, for using studies to kill controversial amendments without taking an up-or-down vote on the underlying issue. The recommended studies, lawmakers say, are never undertaken.

Representative Shawn Dooley of Norfolk accused the majority party of “playing gamesmanship” to avoid a vote that could be used against them in an election, and Representative James Lyons of Andover called it a “charade.”

Lyons said he also grew up in public housing and called it “crazy” to suggest the Republicans “want to throw people on the street.”

O’Connell said the House had previously voted to require Social Security numbers for short-term housing assistance and rental assistance for low-income or elderly individuals. She said said some housing authority directors told her the change would affect a “small number” of people but would nonetheless make needed housing available for people in need.

Representative Antonio Cabral, a New Bedford Democrat, said he found it “fascinating” that housing authority directors would quantify to O’Connell how many residents or applicants did not have Social Security numbers. He said such information should not be released without the resident’s or applicant’s permission and asked O’Connell to identify the housing authorities that had done so.

“They ought to be taken to court, and perhaps the lady probably could be a witness to that since she has that information,” Cabral said.