A CASE can certainly be made that people who live in scarce public housing not only should be financially needy, but should also be citizens or otherwise legal inhabitants of the United States. Thus the government this week has required that, to occupy subsidized housing, aliens must soon prove they are in the US legally. Yet the new rule is not the correct approach to the problem. For starters, there is the prospect of substantial discrimination against Hispanics: Overzealous housing authorities could put unfairly heavy burdens of proof of legality on them.
It is doubtful for practical reasons that the system of requiring one of several types of official papers -- such as birth certificate or alien registration cards -- will work. Forged documents are all too easy to acquire, and housing authorities are not required -- nor would they be able -- to check on the authenticity of documents offered as proof of legal status.
Humanitarian questions also exist. Is it proper to evict a person from public housing for any reason, knowing that he or she would probably have to sleep on the streets or in shelters for the homeless, given the lack of low-cost housing in most communities? And inasmuch as US-born children of illegal aliens are American citizens, what happens to a family in which one parent is an illegal alien but the children are Americans? Would the parent be evicted and sent to his or her native land, splitting the family, as has been threatened in past instances?
The preferable approach is for the United States to take -- finally -- a comprehensive approach that would regain control of US borders. Beefed-up border patrols should be combined with economic assistance to other nations that would encourage their citizens to remain at home rather than entering the US illegally. In the past two years Congress has come close to major immigration reform in highly controversial measures; but it could not take the last few steps necessary for passage in a highly charged atmosphere.
It is time for Congress, and the nation, to take a renewed look at this broader problem. Finding illegal aliens is not the job of local housing authorities.