On Tuesday, September 20, 2022, the DC Council passed The Migrant Services and Supports Emergency Act of 2022 without making any of the significant changes that we advocated for. Councilmember Pinto tried to amend the bill to remove many of the harmful provisions and to add in legal and safety protections for migrants. Councilmember Nadeau and Mayor Bowser strongly opposed the amendment, and managed to convince their colleagues to follow their lead. Councilmembers Silverman, Lewis George, and Gray voted for Pinto’s amendment, but it failed 9-4.
The result is that recent migrants have no legal, health or safety protections, no right to shelter when it is freezing outside, and no guarantee they will receive any services. Other immigrants, those who may have been here for a long time, have also lost their right to shelter in freezing weather, can be deemed ineligible or terminated from all homeless services and they have no right to services provided by the Office of Migrant Services because they are not “recent migrants.” We cannot tell you whether this far-reaching negative impact was the result of sloppy drafting or bad intentions– only that nine DC Councilmembers had fair warning of the impact and voted against an amendment that would have removed much of the harm.
There is still a chance to undo the damage, though, in the temporary and permanent legislation. Councilmember Nadeau has set a hearing for October 20 on the bill, and has pledged to continue to work on changes, despite her strong opposition to Pinto’s amendment. The temporary bill will be voted on on October 4. Read more about the impact of the bill from immigration and public benefit experts at Legal Aid here.
While the outcome of the emergency legiglation was demoralizing, we are heartened by the strong response from the community to advocate for justice for unhoused immigrants. In just one business day, 38 experts and organizations signed the letter below and over 200 individuals emailed the DC Council, asking them to remove harmful sections of the emergency bill. (We also very much appreciate the group effort it took to analyze the impact of the bill, in particular from immigration law experts and mutual aid groups that are directly providing critical services to this population!)
Here are some ways to get involved:
- Reach out to email@example.com to stay involved in this campaign.
- Sign up for the hearing on October 20.
- If you are an organization, sign onto a letter supporting major changes to the permanent legislation here.
- Reach out to the members of the Human Services Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; and firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell them not to segregate or exclude immigrants from DC services.
Letter sent September 19:
Dear DC Council,
We are asking the DC Council to reject the Migrant Services and Supports Emergency Act of 2022 as written, and to quickly revise and limit its scope consistent with the points below.
On Tuesday, you will be asked to vote on a bill that creates the Office of Migrant Services, which we applaud. Unfortunately, the bill goes much farther than that, including eroding the right to shelter for immigrant and non-immigrant residents of the District right on the eve of hypothermia season—risking the health and lives of unhoused DC residents. With no hearing and only a few days to discuss the bill, you will be asked to vote on a bill that could have significant unintended consequences this winter. Further, any bill that seeks to change the eligibility standards for our homeless continuum of care system should not be addressed in emergency legislation.
We fundamentally believe that DC should be providing anyone within our quasi-state borders the services and assistance they need to meet their basic needs, to travel on their way to their final destination, and to make DC their home if choose to stay here– regardless of what state or country a new resident has come from. Immigrants of all countries of origins, languages, and incomes should be welcomed and supported as new residents. We understand that this humanitarian crisis before us was created to make a political point in a progressive city—that immigrants are a drain on resources and are somehow taking away jobs or assistance from U.S. citizens. We reject this and ask that you not pass legislation that feeds into this narrative by excluding recent immigrants from DC resources and services.
We would support a bill that:
- Requires that specialized services and resources are provided to the migrant community;
- Ensures that services are culturally competent and accessible;
- Supplements gaps in other systems, such as ensuring migrants who do not intend to remain in DC, therefore would not be considered DC residents for purposes of other public benefits, are served by the Office of Migrant Services; and
- Requires basic due process, minimal health protections and other legal rights are granted to recipients of services.
We will not support a bill that:
- Endorses or creates a system that will be used to segregate migrants against their will;
- Will be used to justify denying migrants who want to stay in DC mainstream services if that is what they choose; or
- Will be used to further limit the right to shelter, define people out of homelessness who are in fact homeless, or increase bureaucratic barriers to shelter such as additional residency documents.
- ACLU of the District of Columbia
- Advocates for Justice and Education
- African Communities Together
- Marta Beresin, Deputy Director, Health Justice Alliance, Georgetown University Law Center
- Bread for the City
- Children’s Law Center
- Coalition for the Homeless
- Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED)
- DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- DC Fiscal Policy Institute
- DC SAFE
- DC Statehood Green Party
- DC Tenants’ Rights Center
- Disability Rights DC
- District of Columbia Behavioral Health Association
- Empower DC
- Equal Rights Center
- Fair Budget Coalition
- Friendship Place
- Homeless Children’s Playtime Project
- Jews United for Justice
- Jubilee Housing
- La Clinica del Pueblo
- Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia
- Many Languages One Voice (MLOV)
- Miriam’s Kitchen
- Mother’s Outreach Network
- Platform of Hope
- Sasha Bruce
- Sex Worker Advocates Coalition (SWAC)
- SPACES In Action
- TENAC (DC Tenants’ Advocacy Coalition)
- Tzedek DC
- Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
- Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless
- Peter Wood, ANC Commissioner, SMD 1C03