Testimony of Ashley Carter, Supervising Attorney DC Volunteer Lawyers Project October 20th, 2022 Before the Committee on Human Services Council of the District of Columbia B24-0992: Migrant Services and Supports Act of 2022
Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony today. My name is Ashley Carter, and I am a Managing Attorney at the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project. DCVLP is a non-profit organization that was established in 2008 to provide direct legal and advocacy assistance to low-income survivors of domestic violence, at-risk children, and other vulnerable individuals. We believe that a life free from violence and abuse is a basic human right, and we work to reach this goal through direct legal services, advocacy, training, and outreach. We provide survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and other forms of gender-based violence with trauma-centric representation in protection order, family law matters, and immigration cases.
There is no question that the District is facing a major shortfall in resources necessary to serve vulnerable migrants who have been sent here from other states. There is no question that action must be taken to provide resources for these migrants. But the bill before the Council today is fatally flawed. If this bill is passed without significant changes, it will not only create unmanageable difficulties for the migrants who are coming to the District now; it could also affect migrants who have lived in the District for years, and could even impact other D.C. residents receiving public benefits. It will make things particularly difficult for survivors of domestic violence or other forms of gender-based violence who are fleeing in order to protect themselves.
In its current form, The Migrant Services and Support Act changes the definition of who is a resident of the District of Columbia for the purposes of receiving assistance from the Homeless Services. The HSRA provides essential services for District residents who are experiencing the crisis of homelessness. Under the proposed bill, the new definition of a “resident” would exclude any migrants who are waiting to report to an immigration interview or other immigration proceeding outside the District; were paroled into the U.S. after January 1, 2022 (with exceptions); or were issued a notice to appear for immigration court after January 1, 2022. Given that the District of Columbia does not have an immigration court within its borders, and given the extreme backlog of immigration cases and the sometimes years-long delays in receiving notices to appear, these provisions would exclude many immigrants from residency even if they have been in the District for years, or if they do intend to settle permanently in the District. Individuals who are eligible for the HSRA are required to receive “Continuum of Care” services, including access to crisis intervention, shelters including temporary family shelters, supportive housing programs like rapid rehousing, and supportive services with employment, healthcare, child care, and case management. These services can be a lifeline to help survivors of violence achieve safety and stability, not just for themselves, but also for their children. The Office of Migrant Services would not be required to provide any of these services. In fact, the bill as written includes specific language that “services provided under this act shall not be considered Continuum of Care services under the Homeless Services Reform Act.”
This bill would also make it harder for migrants fleeing domestic violence, human trafficking, or other forms of gender-based violence to access the services that would allow them to escape violence and terror. We know that homelessness and domestic violence are intricately interconnected – 38% of all victims of domestic violence become homeless at some point in their lives, and over 90% of homeless women have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives.1 Until the emergency version of this bill was passed, D.C. Code § 4-753.01 provided an exception to the HSRA’s requirement that survivors of domestic violence and human trafficking, refugees, and asylees prove their D.C. residency before receiving services. This meant that survivors of these kinds of violence were, until recently, able to receive the full range of HSRA services without providing proof of residency. This exception is incredibly important because survivors of violence are often forced to flee from their homes without important documents, or have no access to those documents because an abuser is withholding them. The bill before the Committee now would change the language of the HSRA to eliminate this exception. As a result, this bill places a greater burden on the most vulnerable, and does much more harm than good. Survivors of domestic violence who could not provide proof of residency would only be eligible for services through OMS, which, as previously noted, has no obligation to provide the same supportive services that HSRA must provide. DCVLP strongly opposes these changes, which would make finding safety and stability that much more difficult for those who are already at risk for violence and homelessness.
Finally, the bill would prevent individuals from establishing District residency under the HSRA by showing documentation from the DC Healthcare Alliance Program, a local health insurance program. The DC Healthcare Alliance is one of very few public benefit programs that permits immigrants to participate. Preventing individuals from utilizing DC Healthcare Alliance documentation does not just prevent migrants from proving residency – this could affect the many other D.C. residents who receive DCVLP opposes this change, which could potentially harm a number of D.C. residents who live in poverty.
On behalf of the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project, thank you for the opportunity to be here today. I’d also like to thank my colleagues who are here today from other legal services organizations for their advocacy and leadership on these issues. I welcome any questions or further thoughts from the Committee.
/s/ Ashley Carter
1 National Network to End Domestic Violence, “Domestic Violence, Housing, and Homelessness”, available at