On October 20, 2022, Ayuda Grants Writer Sandra Benavente testified before the Council of District of Columbia’s Committee on Human Services in a public hearing regarding B24-0992, the “Migrant Services and Supports Act of 2022.”
Testimony of Ayuda on B24-0992, the “Migrant Services and Supports Act of 2022”
Chairperson Nadeau, and Distinguished Members of the Committee on Human Services:
Good afternoon. My name is Sandra Benavente and I present this testimony on behalf of Ayuda, a DC-based nonprofit that has served the local immigrant community since 1973. For nearly 50 years, Ayuda has offered a full range of immigration and family law assistance, social services, and language access support for low-income immigrants from anywhere in the world. Ayuda envisions a community where all immigrants succeed and thrive in the United States. Guided by this vision, we welcome the provision of specialized services and resources for the immigrant community through the newly created Office of Migrant Services. However, we believe the language in The Migrants Services and Supports Act of 2022 does not align with the bill’s stated intention and will have harmful, discriminatory effects. Ayuda strongly urges the Council to make significant changes to the permanent legislation so that it achieves the stated intent and upholds D.C.’s sanctuary city commitments.
The Migrants Services and Supports Act of 2022 would create a discriminatory system where recently arrived immigrants would not be entitled to the same rights and protections as others seeking shelter and services in D.C. At the same time, it creates barriers to access to services for immigrants who have long been considered residents. The legislation would result in the removal of rights ensured by the Homeless Services Reform Act for recent immigrants, leaving them vulnerable to denial of services during extreme weather, unsafe shelter accommodations, family separation, and other risks. The bill undermines amendments made to the Homeless Services Reform Act to ensure that victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other crimes are considered residents of the District and are eligible for services absent documentation. Additionally, it eliminates DC Healthcare Alliance, one of the only public benefits available to undocumented immigrants, as proof of DC residency to qualify for homeless services.
Low-income immigrants already contend with unique challenges in accessing the social safety net, due to language barriers, misinformation about eligibility, cultural misunderstandings, and fears of deportation. Making the eligibility process for public benefits more burdensome and potentially discriminatory only serves to create additional barriers for both newly arrived immigrants and immigrants who have resided in DC for longer periods. Ayuda has a long history of working with immigrant survivors of crime and knows that this population experiences multi-dimensional, complex and compound trauma on social, legal, and psychological, and emotional levels. Requiring newly arrived immigrant victims of crime seeking asylum or refuge to provide two documents proving their DC residency to access lifesaving shelter puts traumatized and vulnerable immigrants at risk.
Ayuda believes justice, safety, and well-being should have no barriers. The Migrants Services and Supports Act erects barriers around critical human services, segregating and excluding newly arrived immigrants while also excluding long-time D.C. residents from services they currently have access to. In eliminating existing protections that the community has worked hard to secure, this bill is, unequivocally, a step backwards. We urge the D.C. Council to amend the legislation to ensure that both new and long-time residents can access all essential services, regardless of their immigration status.