Immigration laws lead to unintended housing problems for legal aliens
ASPEN, Colo. – Seasonal workers who have legal work visas may be unintended victims of new state laws targeting people who can’t prove “lawful presence” in the country, and Aspen housing authorities are struggling to comply with the letter of the laws.In August, Colorado implemented new guidelines to verify that people are legally allowed in the country before they are given public benefits.One of the new rules stipulates that the Aspen/Pitkin County Housing Authority run applicants’ names through the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements Program, run by the Department of Homeland Security.Between Aug. 1, when the laws were implemented, and Dec. 19, the housing office ran 229 names through the SAVE program, but 70 of them are still pending. That means those people are technically not supposed to receive benefits, like rental units offered through the housing office, until they do the necessary paperwork.The problem, officials say, is that the state has given little direction or support on what to do in those instances.”I don’t know where to send (the paperwork), what to send or who to send it to,” said qualifications specialist Julie Kieffer.Most applicants need to do follow-up work with the Department of Motor Vehicles, but Kieffer says the office in Glenwood Springs isn’t properly equipped to handle the extra work, and she’s had to direct people to the DMV in Lakewood, on the outskirts of Denver.Kieffer said she’s gotten the runaround from state officials on how to deal with the problems. The state’s Department of Revenue told her to go through the Colorado Division of Housing to contact the Attorney General’s office, which told her to call the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”I just got nowhere,” she said.Although the housing office is supposed to deny benefits to people who haven’t cleared SAVE, Housing Director Tom McCabe said he’s been letting workers with valid visas who just arrived in the country into Marolt Ranch and Burlingame seasonal rentals – although he’s been more stringent with people who were already in the country.”If they were coming in from outside the country, they’d already been screened,” he said. “They’ve been cleared by the federal government to come into the country. I figure they’ve been cleared to get into my housing.”If he hadn’t allowed them into the seasonal units, many of the workers would have been temporarily homeless.”We’re not complying strictly with the law on that one … but I think it’s the humane thing to do” he said. “We have demonstrated very vigorously that we’re trying to implement the intent of the law. I don’t know how many phone calls we’ve made. It’s a bureaucratic quagmire.”In the handful or more cases where a worker’s status is still pending, McCabe said the workers themselves probably don’t know the SAVE program could still kick them back for further verification.”I just feel that’s so unlikely because (the federal government is) being so tough on it on the front end,” he said.
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