National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

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U.S. citizens and legal immigrants not welcome in public housing, but guns okay.

July 13, 2009 - Posted by Grisella Martinez

Pink Gun

Photo by Wakalani


Last week, members of the House Financial Services Committee approved two little-noticed amendments to the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act of 2009 (H.R. 3045) offered by Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga).[1] The first would allow gun possession in public housing projects, the second would prohibit U.S. citizens and legal immigrants from eligibility for Section 8 public housing if they were unable to show narrow forms of photo identification.


The Price amendment states that all adult members of a household, in order to demonstrate eligibility for Section 8 housing, would have to present 1 out of 4 specific types/combinations of personal identification documents:


    • A Social Security Card accompanied with a photo ID issued by Federal or State government; or

    • A REAL ID compliant driver’s license or identification card;

    • A passport issued by any country; or

    • A photo identification card issued by the Department of Homeland Security


So what’s the problem with this? To begin with, many U.S. citizens, let alone lawful immigrants, don’t have the right documentation. Since no state currently issues the REAL ID compliant drivers license because it would break the bank for most state governments, and since three out of every four U.S. citizens do not have passports, the vast majority will have to present both a Social Security card (not simply an SSN) and a government issued photo ID. 


That means that U.S. citizens will be denied public housing. A 2006 report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law revealed that a large percentage of US citizens lack government-issued photo identification documents such as a driver’s license or military ID. The results suggest that six million American seniors do not possess a government-issued photo ID, 15 percent of individuals earning under $35,000 a year do not possess such ID, and fully one out every four adult African Americans do not possess this ID.[2]


In the midst of one of our nation’s most significant economic crises, impoverished families could be prevented from obtaining or keeping their homes. U.S. citizens and lawfully-residing immigrants, families that were recently homeless, victims of domestic violence and disaster victims could face barriers to providing the documentation required to obtain longer-term, short-term or temporary housing. 


Requiring every adult in a household to present such limited documents, not just the particular person or persons seeking assistance, means that U.S. citizens and legal immigrants could be denied assistance because one adult in the household is unable to provide the necessary documentation, even if that adult lacking identification documentation is not seeking assistance for him or herself.


Measures like this do nothing to move us towards fixing our broken immigration system or improving public housing programs. The Price amendment is a ridiculous attempt to use housing legislation for political posturing about immigration and immigrants, but if allowed to pass, will have a profound impact on struggling Americans who more than ever are relying on the federal government to shelter them during our nation’s economic crisis.  


[1] Gun Amendment in Public Housing Voucher Bill Gets Panel Support by Karoun Demirjian, CQ Staff July 13, 2009.

[2] Citizens without Proof: A Survey of American’s Possession of Documentary Proof of Citizenship and Photo Identification” Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law (Nov. 2006)

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