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Democrats look to block Trump housing proposal that could displace thousands of immigrant families

Washington — Through newly-unveiled legislation, House Democrats are hoping to block a proposed rule by the Trump administration that could displace more than 100,000 people in immigrant families — including tens of thousands of children who are U.S. citizens or legal residents — from government-subsidized housing. 

Rep. Adriano Espaillat, who represents working-class New York City neighborhoods home to some of the largest public housing units in the country, introduced a bill Wednesday that would allow any member of a mixed-status family who is eligible for government aid — not just the head of a household or spouse — to qualify the entire family for prorated family housing assistance. 

The legislation represents the first Democratic-led legislative effort to derail a controversial proposal officially unveiled earlier this month by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) designed to evict undocumented immigrants from public housing. 

"To penalize families and potentially make children homeless — as well as the adults — is wrong," Espaillat told CBS News Wednesday. "This is an effort to protect them from eviction."

Demonstrators Protest During First Day Of United Nations General Assembly
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 19, 2017: Activists, including City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Rep. Adriano Espaillat, sit on Fifth Avenue in an action of civil disobedience near Trump Tower on September 19, 2017 in New York, New York. The action was intended to call attention to President Donald Trump's anti-immigration policies, including the rollback of DACA. Kevin Hagen / Getty Images

Democrats in Congress and in large urban centers across the nation have been scathing in their criticism of the proposed rule, which they believe will drive thousands of both legal and undocumented low-income immigrant families with children into the streets. HUD Secretary Ben Carson, however, has maintained that the chief purpose of the rule is to take care of American citizens before undocumented immigrants. 

"You take care of your own first," Carson said when pressed by lawmakers on his proposal during a congressional hearing last week. 

Like a proposed rule to expand the definition of the "public charge" designation for immigrants who use food and medical benefits, the HUD proposal is another effort by the Trump administration to limit government welfare participation among both legal and undocumented immigrants. And like the public charge proposal, the proposed housing rule is expected to negatively affect U.S. citizens and green card holders, including children. 

Tens of thousands of families — including children — at risk of displacement 

In an agency analysis, HUD officials said the proposed rule would affect approximately 108,000 people who receive housing aid in a family with at least one undocumented family member. By amending the Housing and Community Act of 1980, the rule change, if enacted, would bar these roughly 25,000 mixed-status families from living in public housing and require anyone under 62 eligible for aid to provide evidence of legal status. 

Although the proposed rule stipulates that family members who are in the U.S. legally would be allowed to stay in their home, HUD officials conceded in their analysis that most of the tens of thousands of immigrant families affected by the rule will vacate rather than risk family separation. According to the report, approximately 70% of members of these families are U.S. citizens or legal residents — and roughly 55,000 are children.

"Even if a parent is willing to sacrifice him — or herself — for the sake of the household's continuing receipt of housing assistance; a household would probably suffer a worse outcome by trying to adapt to the new rules than by leaving together," the career officials wrote in their impact analysis.  

According to the report, the rule would fuel homelessness in many cases and cost the government at least $193 million to replace mixed-status families with households that have no undocumented family members — and which HUD forecasts will receive a "higher subsidy."

The largest share of the people HUD projects to be affected by the proposal live in California, Texas and New York — the three states home to the largest immigrant communities in the U.S. 

In New York City alone, the rule is projected to negatively impact 2,800 households with more than 11,000 family members, including nearly 3,000 children, a city official told CBS News. The proposal would affect many immigrant families living in New York City Housing Authority public housing units, as well as in homes with Section 8 housing vouchers. 

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles estimates that 2,587 households there could be affect by the proposal, an agency official told CBS News. About 11,600 individuals and nearly 3,000 children in L.A. could displaced by the rule change. 

As mandated by U.S. administrative law, the proposed rule is currently being subject to a 60-day comment window during which the public can submit feedback that will be reviewed by HUD before the agency issues a final rule.