More and more tenants are reporting that landlords are threatening them with deportation in attempts to raise rent, evict, or simply avoid fixing things in their units.
Citylab reports that many attorneys are juggling cases in which landlords feel empowered to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement to handle their evictions, especially in areas around California where rent prices have skyrocketed as tech-related gentrification takes over.
Shirley Gibson of Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County told Citylab that she is currently working with a mother of three who had to take out a restraining order on her husband. The landlord simultaneously demanded she sign a new lease at a rent increase, and when she asked to show it to an attorney, he gave her an ultimatum: sign it immediately or he’d call immigration.
“She believed this manager,” says Gibson, “Because when he was making the threat he was wearing the red hat—the ‘Make America Great Again’ hat—and to her mind that meant, ‘This is a person who really hates me.’”
Threats of arrests by ICE have supposedly increased drastically since the election. A policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, Jith Meganathan, told Citylab, “We have somewhere between two-and-a-half million and three million undocumented individuals living in California, most of whom are renters. Unscrupulous landlords are taking advantage of their knowledge of that fact to deprive tenants of their legal rights.”
These fears also affect how people fearing immigration officials report other crimes, for example instances of domestic abuse. Lawyers have reported losing cases as victims fear being rounded up at the courthouse. This fear is not unfounded. In fact, the Associated Press reports that “sexual assaults reported by Latinos in Los Angeles have dropped 25 percent, and domestic violence reports by Latinos have decreased by 10 percent compared to the same period last year.”
Gibson says before Trump’s election, when tenants received similar threats from landlords she’d advise clients that it was highly unlikely ICE would respond to a random complaint.
“Now, who knows?” she says, “I can’t say to people that won’t happen.”