Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Ben Carson faced harsh criticism from Democrats on Tuesday, as he fielded questions at a Capitol Hill hearing on a proposed rule change that would strip public housing assistance for illegal immigrants.
Some of the most intense grilling came from Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who claimed that Carson's plan "would bring nothing but despair to thousands of American families."
"Quite frankly, I find it despicable," Maloney said of the plan, which would eliminate government aid for families with members who are in the U.S. illegally, even if other family members, such as children, are citizens or legal residents. A HUD study found roughly 25,000 households are in this situation, including approximately 55,000 children with legal status.
"Your plan to create vacancies by making 55,000 American children homeless is among the most damaging proposals I have ever seen," Maloney said during the House Financial Services Committee hearing. "Where will they live?" she asked, wondering if Carson would have them stay in cages on the border.
Carson was quick to defend and explain the proposal, which he said addressed Maloney's concern.
"If you read the rule carefully," he said, "you will see that it provides a six-month deferral on request, if they have not found another place to live." Carson said that deferral can then be renewed twice, "for a total of 18 months, which is plenty of time for Congress to engage in comprehensive immigration reform so that this becomes a moot point."
Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., also commented on the proposal during her opening statement, calling it "cruel," and "inconsistent with HUD's mission."
The proposal notes that existing law prohibits the government from providing housing assistance to those in the country illegally, and allows Carson to strip assistance from anyone receiving it improperly.
The current system lets families of mixed immigration status receive a prorated amount of assistance for those who are citizens or legal residents. Carson said that while these families receive assistance, there are other families -- where every member is in the country legally -- who have to spend years on a wait list to get help. He noted that this includes "hundreds of thousands of children," not to mention disabled people and the elderly.
"If in fact you want to explain to the American citizens who have been on the wait list for several years in your district in New York why we should continue to support families who are not here legally, I would be happy to join you in helping explain that to them," Carson told Maloney.
According to the HUD analysis, most of the families who would be affected reside in New York, California and Texas.
The proposed rule change, which was published on the Federal Register on May 10 and is now open to public comment, would require verification of immigration status for anyone under the age of 62.