Hispanic and civil rights groups are concerned that a new federal regulation barring illegal immigrants from living in public, subsidized housing may trigger an increase in discrimination against Hispanic tenants. The regulations, published Tuesday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for the first time puts HUD in the border-control business by requiring all prospective and current tenants in public housing to prove that they are legal residents of the United States, before qualifying for a housing subsidy.
Under the new regulations, each tenant 18-years-old or older must present a birth certificate, passport, certificate of naturalization, or other immigration documents to landlords or project managers, or face eviction.
Pepe Barron, chairman of the Consortium of National Hispanic Organizations, says the new rules bring the US one step closer to issuing national identity cards and taking other authoritarian measures to battle the rising tide of illegal immigrants coming to this country.
``When we begin talking about having documentation and credentials to rent a house, then we are getting pretty close to living in a socialist country, and that would not be the free country that we all want,'' Dr. Barron says.
He adds that the new regulations will expose Hispanics -- as an easily identifiable group -- to suspicion and closer scrutiny than other Americans applying for similar housing.
There are currently 10 million people living in 4.2 million subsidized housing units in the US, according to HUD statistics. Officials say there is a shortage of subsidized housing for those who need it.
The new regulations are designed, according to a HUD press release, ``to reserve scarce housing assistance resources for persons with the most legitimate claim -- namely citizens and other persons lawfully present in the United States.''
The government should not be in the business of housing illegal aliens, says HUD Secretary Samuel Pierce.
According to HUD officials, there have been no studies to determine how many illegal aliens may be living in government housing projects.
``There were some anecdotal indications that in certain parts of the country there may be large numbers of illegal aliens living in public, subsidized housing,'' particularly in the Southwest, says Steve Balis of HUD's general counsel's office. He adds, ``Clearly there are going to be people affected by this requirement, in what numbers we do not know.''
Mario Moreno, associate counsel with the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, says the new regulations are an attempt by the Reagan administration to use undocumented aliens as a scapegoat to take the blame for the shortage of affordable housing in the US.
``I haven't seen anything substantive that there is a real problem with undocumented immigrants taking housing. It's just accusations,'' Mr. Moreno says.
He warns that the regulations will have a ``chilling effect'' on Hispanic-Americans, keeping them from applying for public housing, even though they are legal residents. He predicts that language barriers and concerns that their legal status may be revoked will prevent some qualified Hispanics from applying. ``There is going to be fear,'' Moreno says.
The regulations will take effect for new applicants July 30. Existing tenants will be asked to provide proof of legal residence, beginning Oct. 27.