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Bill would provide housing rights to immigrants

St. Francis Community Services backs Immigrant Tenant Protection Act

St. Francis Community Services is supporting an effort to prohibit landlords from harassing, intimidating or retaliating against tenants for exercising their rights.

Gabriele Eissner, advocacy and outreach coordinator at St. Francis Community Services, said “the Church teaches that each person has an inherent human dignity, and that should be protected. A huge part of your life is your housing.”

The effort to protect tenants is the Immigrant Tenant Protection Act of Missouri recently filed in the state legislature. It prevents landlords from disclosing or threatening to disclose the immigration status of their tenants.

St. Francis Community Services, a Catholic Charities agency, hosted a press conference Feb. 28 held by its Immigrant Housing Project along with the Missouri Immigration Policy Coalition. Juan Narváez, Immigrant Housing Project coordinator at St. Francis, said “we are not OK with landlords taking advantage of our clients by discriminating against them, refusing to fulfill their obligations and actively working to displace families.”

House Bill 2601, sponsored by Rep. Sarah Unsicker (D-Webster Groves), prohibits a landlord from harassing, intimidating or retaliating against a tenant for exercising his or her rights. It still allows landlords to request documentation to determine the financial qualification of a prospective tenant and to enforce violations of lease agreements. It retains a landlord’s ability to act in the best interest of their property or other tenants, Unsicker said.

Unsicker said she filed the bill because under current Missouri law, immigrants have no protection to maintain housing. “Landlords can bully, harass and threaten immigrant, even perceived immigrants, with eviction or with disclosure of their immigration status, to immigration or law-enforcement officials,” she said.

The bill would allow tenants to bring civil action to seek actual damages, a penalty not to exceed $2,000 for each violation, attorney’s fees and court costs and other relief determined by the court.

Sarah Caldera Wimmer of LifeWise STL, said fear and intimidation keeps immigrants in substandard and unsafe housing. She cited tenants who cannot get landlords to act on problems of mold, rats, insects and other problems, charge higher rents and refuse to return security deposits. She called it a “culture of silence” among the immigrant community.

The Missouri Catholic Conference, as one of its public policy priorities, seeks to “bear witness to the God-given human dignity of all immigrants and refugees, including the undocumented and those displaced by war and persecution, reminding lawmakers of the right of people to migrate to other countries.”

Though the MCC has yet to study the proposal, executive director Tyler McClay said, “in general, we support the right of immigrants to live peaceably without fear of harassment or unjust discrimination based upon their status in keeping with the Church’s teaching to welcome the stranger among us.”


More on legislation

The Missouri Catholic Conference opposes SB642 (www.bit.ly/2vRV1vk), sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis, which prohibits public institutions of higher education from offering in-state tuition rates to any student unlawfully present in the United States.

“Students brought to the U.S. as children by their parents should not be denied in-state tuition rates at Missouri public universities when they have been given protected legal status through the DACA program. Offering them in-state tuition is a way of recognizing them as persons who consider Missouri their home,” the MCC stated.

DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is an administrative program that permitted certain individuals who came to the United States as juveniles and meet several criteria — including lacking any current lawful immigration status — to request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and eligibility for work authorization.

The Missouri Catholic Conference also opposes House Bill 2756 (www.bit.ly/2TDUI0d), sponsored by Rep. Jeffrey Pogue, R-Salem, which forbids the placement of refugees without the approval of the Missouri General Assembly. The MCC states that refugees are people fleeing war and persecution in their native country. Missouri should act promptly to welcome these families into our state.

Read the text of Missouri House Bill 2601, which establishes provisions protecting immigrant tenants, at www.bit.ly/3347ic3.

To correspond with your state representative, visit www.house.mo.gov. Contact your state senator at www.senate.mo.gov.

“Families depend on decent housing and health care to flourish. Let us pray to God the Father to continue to guide us in our careful advocacy around legislative issues that

affect the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters.” Archbishop Robert J. Carlson | Statement on Medicaid Expansion, Jan. 31, 2020

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