Judge: Phoenix erroneously excluded immigrants from housing aid

Phoenix cityscape

A judge has ruled the city of Phoenix erroneously excluded immigrants from receiving coronavirus aid to cover utility bills, mortgage and rental costs.

The city required applicants to its $25 million utility, rent and mortgage assistance program to provide proof of legal status in the United States.

U.S. District Judge Dominic Lanza concluded on Dec. 9 that Phoenix isn’t required to exclude unqualified immigrants from participating because the assistance program falls within exceptions in federal law for “short-term, non-cash, in-kind emergency disaster relief.” The judge said the city’s decision to exclude immigrants was trumped by federal law.

The coronavirus’ current surge saw Arizona on Thursday report nearly 5,000 additional known COVID-19 cases, the eighth day in the last 10 that the state has report over 4,000 additional cases. Arizona reported a record 12,314 cases on Tuesday.

Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

The immigrant advocacy groups that filed the lawsuit argued the federal law cited by the city in excluding immigrants had exceptions. The City argued the funds in question were a federal public benefit and were not subject to the exceptions.

The benefits are “non-cash” because the money isn’t given directly to applicants but instead is sent to landlords, mortgage companies and utility providers, Lanza wrote.

The judge said the city has said its decision to exclude immigrants wasn’t a policy decision but rather based solely on its interpretation of federal law. Lanza said Phoenix has indicated it will begin allowing immigrants to participate in the program in the future.

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