BY: Micole Alfaro, Professional Development Chair
What is the full citation of the Uniform Act? More importantly, what is the intent of the Uniform Act and what does it actually mean in the context of its implementing regulations and relocation of displaced people? We know the Uniform Act provides persons displaced by federally funded projects the following assurance: “uniform, fair and equitable treatment of persons displaced in connection with federally funded projects,” among other objectives. We also know that a lack of understanding the Uniform Act and its implementing regulations can lead to project risk and the unfair and inequitable treatment of people; people that include unlawfully present immigrants that face exceptional and extremely unusual hardship as a result of denied assistance. While it is true such displacees are ineligible to receive relocation assistance per CFR 24.208, absolute denial of relocation assistance without further inquiry, justification and documentation would unfortunately be discriminatory and incompliant. While it is true the regulation states aliens not lawfully present are ineligible to receive relocation assistance, by no means is it a rubber stamp situation. The documented inquiry as to a household’s imminent hardship status should just be the beginning. Some might say it is difficult if not impossible to provide Decent, Safe and Sanitary housing within a household’s financial means when a household is provided less bedrooms due legal status. Dividing assistance intended for displaced households due to not lawfully present displacees results in relocating families into dwellings that are less than adequate in size; one of the key requirements of the DS&S standard. While unlawfully present individuals are not eligible for assistance, their income is however eligible and factored into a rental assistance payment or lack thereof, thereby further reducing assistance – while the correlation between households with unlawfully present displacees and extreme hardship seems painfully obvious. There may be disagreement about the morality of denying assistance on this basis, but one thing is crystal clear; a decision to not provide relocation assistance to unlawfully present immigrants must be justified (if possible) and fully documented. A project would need to be prepared for likely appeals and potentially costly legal challenges from displacees and/or community organizations and stakeholders. The ways we understand and communicate these requirements in meetings or in classrooms is important. These are the ways knowledge is learned, passed on and implemented. Maybe in the future things will evolve and every displaced person will automatically be deemed eligible regardless of citizenship status. Until then, understanding the Uniform Act, adhering to its implementing regulations and some foresight in planning will prove beneficial to all stakeholders.