A proposed class action aims to stop Phoenix from imposing restrictions on the basis of immigrant status for those looking to participate in the city’s COVID-19 emergency housing program to prevent evictions and homelessness.
According to the 19-page lawsuit, Phoenix was allocated approximately $293 million through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and the city chose to use roughly $25 million of that money to aid renters and homeowners amid severe economic uncertainty. Per the suit, payments from the program for those in need of assistance will go directly to landlords, mortgage companies, and utilities.
The lawsuit says, however, that Phoenix restricts which immigrants are allowed to participate in the program. More specifically, a Phoenix immigrant who meets the qualified status requirements defined by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) is eligible to participate in the housing assistance program, while those who fall short of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) requirements, those with Temporary Protected Status, asylum applicants, and U-Visa holders who have been the victims of serious crimes are left out, the complaint says.
When Congress established the CARES Act, it did not incorporate any limitations on the use of the funds based on immigration status, the plaintiffs argue.
“When Congress wanted to limit grants to local governments based on immigration status, it has done so explicitly, including in other sections of the CARES Act,” the suit reads, claiming Phoenix’s policy of doling out housing assistance restricted by immigrant status “undermines” congressional goals, in particular given the percentage of the city’s population that are immigrants.
Ultimately, the defendant’s policy of restricting eligibility for emergency rental, mortgage or utilities assistance services related to the COVID-19 crisis is discriminatory and preempted by the United States Constitution’s Supremacy Clause.
The plaintiff, who filed the suit alongside the non-profit Poder in Action and Arizona Dream Act Coalition, says she lost her job amid the coronavirus pandemic and has received regular state and additional federal unemployment benefits. With the additional federal unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of July, the plaintiff is worried she will be unable to keep up with utility bills, which tend to increase during hotter months, and could lose her home. According to the suit, the woman is a DACA recipient and is therefore unable to participate in Phoenix’s housing assistance program.
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