Can Homeless Immigrants Get Help?

Since President Trump took office and signed executive orders related to immigration policy, law enforcement officials have greater authority to pursue and prosecute a wider range of undocumented immigrants.

Recent actions regarding immigration and asylum policy have prompted many to ask how they can protect the rights of at-risk clients, as well as how to prepare for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) actions.

While this isn’t legal advice, here are three things you should know. Please seek legal advice if you or your organization needs a more detailed understanding of how this information applies to specific situations.

Three Things You Should Know About Homelessness and Immigration Enforcement

1. Immigration enforcement priorities have changed.

Past raids in several states were similar to ones that occurred under the Obama Administration, with one major difference: the Obama Administration specified that individuals targeted had committed a crime. The new executive order, as of 2017, broadens the rules to include any individuals considered suspect.

People that were arrested under this new order included those who had committed a crime, but also included anyone who was found during the search for those previous offenders.

For more information about the order, check out the National Immigration Law Center’s analysis.

2. ICE has a “sensitive locations” policy.

The ICE sensitive location policy prevents immigration enforcement actions like arrests, interviews, searches and immigration-only surveillance at specific locations. This includes schools, places of worship, hospitals, public religious ceremonies, and public demonstrations without prior approval unless there are circumstances that create more urgency.

The Protecting Sensitive Locations Act of 2019 (H.R. 1011) would continue these protections for at-risk clients.

3. ICE has a policy regarding the removal of victims and witnesses of crime.

ICE has a policy that is in place to encourage agents to use discretion when it comes to victims of and witnesses to crimes for fear of deterring these people from reporting them. This includes survivors of domestic violence and trafficking. It is also important to know that in certain instances, these survivors may be eligible to apply for citizenship or special visas.

Though there are no concrete statistics, a significant number of undocumented immigrants experience homelessness and end up in shelters. A 2017 survey by the New York Immigration Coalition found that 61 percent of the city’s immigrant legal service providers had at least one client living in a homeless shelter. Twenty percent reported at least fifty clients staying in a shelter.

A significant number of undocumented immigrants experience homelessness and end up in shelters.

New York’s Department of Homeless Services said it is not aware of ICE making any arrests inside a shelter but nevertheless has proactively educated shelter directors about preventing federal agents from accessing shelters without legitimate warrants.

The department has provided legal information to shelters to distribute among immigrant clients, and social service agencies that operate shelters have been instructing staff to never document a client’s immigration status, and to review “Know Your Rights” information with immigrant clients.

New York City law mandates that all individuals experiencing homelessness, including undocumented immigrants, have access to temporary shelters. The city does not ask for immigration status during admission intakes, which activists say is a key measure for protecting undocumented immigrants. Los Angeles has similar policies.

Another incident that raised fears in New York City dealt with the relationship between ICE and commercial hotels. In January, Motel 6 locations throughout Washington state gave ICE information about guests with “Latino-sounding names.” New York’s Department of Homeless Services contracts with several hotels to temporarily house homeless individuals and families, but hotel management must adhere to the same confidentiality policies as the shelters, DHS said.

In Los Angeles, the Homeless Services Authority has guided shelter providers on how to respond to law enforcement inquiries and hosted trainings on dealing with ICE. It trains frontline staff on how to make sure that agents have a legitimate warrant and keep them out if they don’t.

Coalition for the Homeless serves clients regardless of their immigration status, although eligibility for each of our programs is specific and immigration status may influence your eligibility for some of our programs. If you have questions regarding your eligibility for certain programs at the Coalition for the Homeless or specific government benefits, please come into the Crisis Intervention Program to speak with an advocate.


Access to New York City shelters is available to all individuals and families who have no other safe place to stay regardless of your immigration status.


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