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California Moves To Bar Landlords From Reporting Illegal Immigrant Tenants

The California state senate passed a bill Thursday that would prevent landlords from reporting suspected illegal immigrant tenants to federal authorities.

The Immigrant Tenant Protection Act, introduced by Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco, broadly prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of immigration status. The measure also specifically bars landlords from reporting or threatening to report information about their tenant to immigration authorities as way to force that person to vacate the housing.

As with most immigration-focused bills coming out of the California statehouse, the bill’s sponsor says it is necessary to shield illegal immigrants against the Trump administration’s tough immigration enforcement.

“Tenants should not have to live in fear simply because they are immigrants or refugees. Trump’s escalating war on immigrants is ripping apart families and mass deportations could be our new reality,” Chiu said in a statement. “This bill will deter the small minority of landlords who unscrupulously take advantage of the real or perceived immigration status of their tenants to engage in abusive acts.”

California state law already prevents landlords from asking tenants about their immigration situation, but rental property owners often collect sensitive information on prospective renters that could indicate if a person in living in the U.S. without authorization. Chiu’s bill, also known as AB 291, would prevent landlords from sending such information to immigration authorities. It would also add immigration status to the list of many characteristics that cannot be used to discriminate against potential renters.

Chiu says he has received complaints from illegal immigrants whose landlords threaten to report them to immigration authorities. The landlords use the specter of immigration raids to silence illegal immigrants who complain about dilapidated dwellings or to evict families to take advantage of rising rent prices, according to fair housing activists.

“AB 291 makes clear that immigration status should not be used as leverage against tenants by landlords who want to profit off of slum conditions or unlawfully evict families to take advantage of rising rents,” Jith Meganathan, a policy advocate for Western Center on Law & Poverty, said in a statement. “In a year that has brought unimaginable levels of fear into immigrants’ lives, we hope that this bill will offer them some measure of security in their own homes.”

The measure now heads back to the California Assembly, where it is likely to pass a final vote. Gov. Jerry Brown has to sign the bill for it to become law.

California has struggled to develop the rental housing stock needed to accommodate its massive illegal immigrant population. The state is home to about 2.3 million illegal immigrants, or 6 percent of the total population, according to the Pew Research Center.

Partially due to overcrowding and restrictions on development, about one-third of California renters spend at least half of their incomes on housing, according to a January report from the state’s housing department.

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