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Kokua Line

June Watanabe

Sunday, October 19, 2003


Public home’s tenants
are qualified residents


Question: My understanding is that immigrants entering this country must sign a waiver saying they will not burden this government with subsistence aid. But visiting a government housing complex, one cannot help but notice the large number of foreign-language speakers living there. Local people living there seem to be outnumbered. The complex I'm referring to is 730 Captain Cook Ave. Shouldn't we give the locals a better chance to live in them?

Answer: Your question indicates some misunderstanding of federal and state laws.

First, it's true that immigrants must show that they will not become "a public charge" before being admitted into the United States.

They do that by either showing "sufficient funds, or jobs or a letter of financial support from a relative or friend," explained Donald Radcliffe, district director of the Bureau of Citizenship & Immigration Services, formerly Immigration and Naturalization Service, in Honolulu. The BCIS is under the new Department of Homeland Security.

However, after being admitted, "economic conditions" could develop that might prompt them to seek public assistance, he said. That fact "would not be a bar to them remaining here," Radcliffe said.

Also, immigration officials do not consider all public benefits in deciding whether someone is a public charge or likely to become one. The focus in determining "public charge" is on cash benefits and institutionalization for long-term care at government expense, according to BCIS.

Among the benefits that are NOT considered for public charge include: Medicaid and other health services; nutrition programs, including food stamps and the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs; housing assistance; educational assistance (including Head Start programs); job training programs; child care services; and community-based programs, services or assistance (such as soup kitchens, crisis counseling and short-term shelter), among other public aid.

As for the number of "foreign-language speakers" at the Punchbowl Homes on Captain Cook Avenue, even though many of the people who reside there may speak a foreign language, they are all legal residents who qualified to live there, according to the Housing and Community Development Corp. of Hawaii, which oversees the housing project.

Anyone applying for housing assistance with the state's housing corporation must first provide proof of legal residency in Hawaii, explained Robert Hall, acting executive director of the housing agency. They also must provide documentation of their income levels.

"Once all the information is verified and the applicant is found qualified for housing assistance under one of HCDCH's programs, they are either placed in housing (if vacancies exist) or placed on a housing waiting list," he said.

Every individual must be given an equal and fair opportunity for housing, under both state and federal laws.

"These laws prohibit any housing discrimination based on a person's race, color, religion, ancestry/national origin, sex, family status, physical or mental disability, marital status, age or HIV infection," Hall said.

He noted that Punchbowl Homes is an elderly housing project, with residents representing a wide range of ethnic and racial backgrounds.

"There are whites, Blacks, Hispanics, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Hawaiian and several other ethnic groups residing at Punchbowl Homes," Hall said. "Especially at elderly projects, it is our experience that the elderly residents tend to communicate with each other in the language they feel most comfortable with."

Hall said he wanted to emphasize that "every resident in Hawaii is given an equal and fair opportunity in assisted-housing programs managed by the corporation."

Meanwhile, back to the question of someone becoming a "public charge," under the Immigration and Nationality Act, an alien can be deported if he or she becomes a public charge within five years after being admitted "for reasons not affirmatively shown to have arisen since entry."

Simply receiving public assistance within five years of entry does not mean an alien can be deported for being a public charge. In fact, the BCIS says that rarely happens.

Under immigration laws, an alien is deportable only if the state or other government entity that provides a benefit has the legal right to seek repayment from the alien or another obligated party, such as a sponsor; the responsible program officials make a demand for repayment; and the alien or other obligated party fails to repay.

But even if these conditions are met, if an alien can show that he became a public charge because of conditions that arose after he entered the United States, he cannot be deported as a public charge.

Auwe

It's not only young people excessively speeding. Try driving on Poipu Drive in Hawaii Kai, where most of the homes that are being sold are over $1 million. Residents and surfers, company work trucks and neighbors in Mercedes, BMWs, Jaguars, Rolls Royces, SUVs, vans, trucks and motorcycles don't obey the 25 mph speed limit. Some are flying over 40 to 50 mph in the 25 mph zone, which drops to 20 mph where a vehicle recently plowed into a resident's stonewall, causing extensive damage. Slow down, neighbors! What's the rush -- the traffic is still going to be backed up on Kalanianaole Highway anyway. -- Concerned 32-year resident


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