Newt Gingrich: Housing Chief Ben Carson Gives Needy Americans a Lifeline Instead of a Waiting Line | Opinion

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson arrives at a Roosevelt Room event at the White House February 6, 2019 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

In a bold move, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is both helping poor Americans and enforcing the law.

Some in Congress may consider enforcing the law and prioritizing help for poor Americans (including people who immigrated to the U.S. legally) over help for people in the country illegally to be controversial or unacceptable. The solution for their position is for Congress to change the law. Until then, it is pretty hard to complain that a Cabinet officer is enforcing a law that Congress wrote.

Alfred E. Smith Houses public housing NYC
The Alfred E. Smith Houses, a public housing development on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Helping poor American families is a core mission of HUD. One lifeline HUD extends to vulnerable families is housing assistance.

Yet 75 percent of Americans eligible for housing assistance—many of whom are children, seniors or people living with a disability—are prevented from receiving the financial aid to which they are legally entitled.

In fact, millions of qualified American families are stuck on waiting lists that have unending queues—the average ones stretch on for years.

In Los Angeles, the waiting list is more than four years long. In Miami-Dade County, thousands have been wait-listed since July 2008—more than a decade. In other localities, such as Orange County, California, and Orlando, Florida, since 2015, public housing authorities have decided to simply close their waiting lists and abandon new applications altogether.

Despite these waiting lists for American citizens, there are an estimated 32,000 households occupied by people in the country illegally, who have no right to be getting taxpayer assistance. This is 32,000 households that could be occupied by American citizens who qualify for the assistance but cannot get it.

In effect, thousands of Americans are being discriminated against in favor of people who are here illegally—or are unlawfully receiving taxpayer aid they do not deserve and should not be getting.

Carson has investigated this injustice and discovered that HUD has long been prohibited from granting federal funds to people in the country illegally. That prohibition—which Congress enacted, and Congress has the power to change—includes a mandate to end assistance whenever a leaseholder knowingly allows a person in the country illegally to reside in HUD-supported housing.

These rules constitute more than a mere functional necessity for law and order; they are a moral necessity for any nation that takes care of its own vulnerable citizens. After all, public assistance is paid for and subsidized by taxpayer dollars.

But these crucial rules are easily skirted by a loophole that lets people in the country illegally who are living with qualified residents declare themselves "ineligible." This means they do not have their immigration status checked, and they continue to live in taxpayer-funded housing.

If members of Congress do not like how the law is being enforced, then they should change the law. Until that happens, federal agencies, like HUD, should continue to do their own constitutional duty and enforce the laws as written by Congress.

Today, to assist agencies in the enforcement of existing—and binding—law, legal status can be easily verified through fast, secure and efficient screening, using the Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) system of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. This screening process is already used by one-third of public housing agencies and needs only to be expanded to end the "ineligible" loophole.

To this end, last week, HUD unveiled a proposal that would require all residents living in HUD-supported housing who are under the age of 62 to be screened through the SAVE system. It is a simple, egalitarian amendment that promises to restore proper enforcement and accountability to supplement the spirit of existing law.

As a result, the new measure HUD has championed is a meaningful step toward protecting our nation's forgotten men and women and promoting the rule of law. There is no legitimate reason—or any excuse—to keep hundreds of thousands of American families waiting in line when a lifeline could be extended instead.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is the host of the "Newt's World" podcast and author of the new national best-seller Collusion.

The views expressed in this op-ed are the author's own.​​​​​