The Federal Government Steps Up to Protect Survivors of Domestic Abuse From Eviction

By Sandra Park, Senior Staff Attorney, ACLU Women’s Rights Project

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Tonya Lee* and her two children had been living in their Maryland apartment complex for five years when her boyfriend became enraged during an argument and stabbed her and her older son. After the police arrested him, her landlord sent her a notice: They were evicting her because of the violence. Her lease included a standard provision authorizing eviction of tenants when there is criminal activity in their homes.

Domestic violence survivors shouldn’t face eviction just because the crime takes place in their home. The ACLU has been advocating for 15 years to establish survivors’ rights to stay in their homes after reporting domestic violence and sexual assault. Those rights are now a reality for millions of people across the country.

Today I was part of a forum with Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro at which he announced three housing reforms that will help protect victims like Tonya from losing their homes. Speaking at the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conference in Chandler, Arizona, Castro announced new regulations from HUD that guarantee survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking protection from eviction from federally funded housing. The regulations, which carry out housing rights created by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), apply to privately owned affordable housing developed with tax credits, public housing, and Section 8 housing. The regulations also state that housing providers must develop policies that offer emergency transfer options for survivors who need to move to another location for safety reasons.

Survivors also often confront local nuisance, or crime-free, ordinances. These ordinances exist around the country and penalize tenants for calling 911 for criminal activity at their home, even when they are the victims. For example, Nancy Markham was nearly kicked out of her Surprise, Arizona, home after calling the police for protection from domestic violence. There was a city ordinance that treated 911 calls as “nuisances” that could lead to eviction.

After advocacy by the ACLU and our partners, HUD issued new guidance explaining that local nuisance ordinances can violate the Fair Housing Act because they so often penalize domestic violence victims who call 911. The guidance calls on cities to get rid of such ordinances to promote fair housing for domestic violence and other crime victims.

HUD also finalized regulations that for the first time explain how the Fair Housing Act prohibits sexual, racial, and other forms of harassment in housing. Such protections are vital to prevent the experiences of women like Yolanda Boswell, whose real estate manager repeatedly offered to reduce her rent in exchange for sex. When she refused, he raised her rent and threatened to evict her. We later learned that he similarly harassed several other women. Just as employers can be held accountable for harassment in the workplace, the regulations spell out how property owners and landlords are responsible when they fail to address harassment committed by their agents.

The ACLU represented Tonya, Nancy, and Yolanda as they successfully fought housing discrimination. But millions of people have faced the loss of their housing because they are victims of domestic and sexual violence. They may feel trapped and endure further violence to avoid homelessness.

PEOPLE SHOULD BE SAFE IN THEIR OWN HOMES

KEEP THEM SAFEThese latest housing reforms bring us one step closer to a world where everyone’s home is a sanctuary. Survivors of violence cannot truly be free without being able to obtain and keep safe housing. And the right to fair housing must not only include having a roof over one’s head, but also living free from violence and abuse.

*Tonya Lee is a pseudonym.

This blog is cross-posted on the ACLU’s blog Speak Freely.

Anti-Sanctuary Policies: When State Law Interferes with Public Safety and Your Civil Liberties

By Amanda Cappelletti, Frankel Legislative Fellow, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Immigrants' rights - ICE officer badge

Immigrants’ rights – ICE officer badge

Currently, the Pennsylvania Senate is considering a bill to punish municipalities in the Commonwealth that don’t go along with the unconstitutional actions of federal immigration authorities. To achieve this, House Bill 1885 would hold a so-called “sanctuary municipality” open to civil lawsuits for the actions of individual residents. It also withholds all state money from these cities and municipalities, such as funding for drug and alcohol treatment, domestic violence centers, and other essential services that municipalities provide.

Let’s be clear: There is no such thing as a “sanctuary city.” Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has jurisdiction everywhere in the United States. It is their job to enforce federal immigration law. Local governments have enough to worry about without the added burden of doing the feds’ job for them.

While there are many problems with this bill, one of the most glaring is that it demonstrates a clear lack of knowledge about what sanctuary policies are and why we need them. Being in the country without immigration status is a civil offense investigated by ICE. If ICE believes local law enforcement has an undocumented citizen in custody, they issue a detainer request. This asks local law enforcement to hold that person for 48 hours past their initial release date and time.

Sanctuary policies support public safety and policing goals. Witnesses and victims of crime are more likely to come forward and cooperate with law enforcement authorities when they do not have the threat of deportation looming over them. Simply put, sanctuary policies are a way of building trust between law enforcement agents and the communities they serve. When that trust is established, police are better able to pursue all criminals, making the immediate and surrounding communities safer.

Perhaps not as glaring, but certainly more pressing is the fact that HB 1885 blatantly ignores the constitutional consequences of complying with ICE detainers. Detainers are issued by ICE agents, without any authorization or oversight by a judge or other neutral decision makers. They are not supported by probable cause or any actual evidence at all. Without the constitutionally guaranteed safeguard of a warrant, detainers can and do lead to the illegal detention of individuals who have not violated any immigration laws and are not deportable. According to its own records, ICE has erroneously issued more than 800 detainers for U.S. citizens since 2008.

ICE detainers ask local law enforcement agents to blatantly violate civil liberties and act unconstitutionally by holding individuals without probable cause. As a result, numerous civil lawsuits claiming unreasonable search and seizure have been filed against municipalities and cities. Ultimately, federal courts have ruled that ICE detainers violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. One of the leading cases in this matter took place in Pennsylvania. Since Galarza, thirty-three counties have taken steps to ensure its citizens’ constitutional rights are protected, and have policies to NOT honor ICE detainer requests.

HB 1885 is so poorly written that it even includes a fictional legal standard. The bill requires law enforcement to inquire into the immigration status of someone they’ve arrested if they have “reasonable cause” that the person is in the country without authorization. “Reasonable cause” is not a legal standard. Despite three committee votes and one vote on the floor of the state House, no one in the General Assembly has bothered to fix this obvious flaw.

And that provision- carried out in a worst case scenario- could encourage police departments to engage in racial profiling and arrest people for petty offenses (like so-called disorderly conduct) for the sole purpose of checking their immigration status.

HB 1885 will fracture the already fragile trust between law enforcement and communities. It takes away a city or municipality’s much needed state funding, while also leaving it wide open for civil lawsuits from victims of unforeseen crime. If the municipality or city complies with HB 1885, it leaves itself open to violating the U.S. Constitution and the civil lawsuits which stem from that. No matter what way you look at it, HB 1885 hurts the citizens of our Commonwealth.


Amanda Cappelletti is the 2016–17 Frankel Legislative Fellow at the ACLU of Pennsylvania. She is also a fourth-year law student and a candidate for a master’s in public health at Temple University.