California lawmakers moved this week to pass a measure making it illegal for landlords to report tenants who are suspected of being illegal immigrants. Assembly Bill 291 would also enable illegal alien tenants the right to sue their landlords over violations of code. The author of AB291, Assemblyman David Chiu (D) of San Francisco said that the “Immigrant Tenant Protection Act” will protect the rights of illegal immigrant tenants supposedly endangered by Trump administration’s enforcement of federal immigration laws.

Under existing law in California, landlords were already forbidden to ask tenants about their immigration status. However, AB291 is the first that specifically prohibits discrimination against illegal immigrant tenants.

In a statement issued by his office, Chiu said, “Tenants should not have to live in fear simply because they are immigrants or refugees. Trump’s escalating war on immigrants is ripping apart families, and mass deportations could be our new reality.” He said further in the statement: “This bill will deter the small minority of landlords who unscrupulously take advantage of the real or perceived immigration status of their tenants to engage in abusive acts.”

Of the approximately 11 million illegal immigrants currently living in the country, according to the Pew research organization, 2.25 million live in California. Overall, approximately 53 percent of illegal aliens originated in Mexico.

AB291 would prohibit landlords from disclosing the immigration status of renters or threatening to report them to immigration authorities, whether for retaliation for asserting their rights or to evict them. Advocates for immigrants claim that evictions, harassment, and intimadation have increased throughout California since President Donald Trump took office. Turning the tables on landlords, the bill would permit illegal immigrants to sue over violations of the law. Damages awards could reach six to 12 times their monthly rent, per tenant. Having passed the Assembly on a 48-19, the bill goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for its probable approval. 

Assemblyman Rocky Chavez was the sole Republican who voted to pass the bill. Another Republican, Assembly Marc Steinorth, did not vote. Democrats voted unanimously in favor of the bill.

The Housing Now organization, a housing advocacy group, urged Brown to sign the bill. In a statement by a spokeswoman, the organization contends: “After Trump was elected, California’s leadership made a commitment to do everything in their power to protect immigrants from Trump’s attacks. AB291 is an opportunity for Gov. Jerry Brown to follow through on that commitment.”



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Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat and the editor of Spero News.

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