Accessing Resources: Public Benefits
Services provided by nonprofit charitable organizations
All immigrant survivors, regardless of immigration status, qualify for services “necessary to protect life or safety,” as well-established under
- Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (the Welfare Reform Act)
- Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA)
- Violence Against Women Act (VAWA),
- Fair Housing Act
- McKinney Homeless Act
- Orders of the US Attorney General
- Guidance issued by federal agencies.
Crisis counseling and intervention, violence and abuse prevention, and domestic violence or other criminal activity programs are all designated as “necessary to protect life or safety.” These kinds of programs are also often provided by nonprofit charitable organizations.
Nonprofit charitable organizations can legally provide services to all persons, regardless of immigration status.The only instance in which nonprofit charitable organizations are prohibited from providing services defined as “federal public benefits” is when an agency that must meet verification requirements (such as a state government benefits agency) has verified that the individual is not a “qualified immigrant” and presents this finding to the nonprofit charitable organization. This happens when, for example, eligibility for benefits programs is determined by a government agency, but services are provided by nonprofit charitable organizations. This does not mean the nonprofit may not serve the individual, just that the services must be paid for with other funds, such as other local, state, or federal government funds; foundation grants; or grants from religious or corporate institutions or individuals.
Furthermore, nonprofit charitable organizations:
- Are explicitly exempted from immigration status verification requirements in the 1996 welfare and immigration laws, even if they receive federal, state, or local funding; and
- May not be penalized for not verifying immigration status or for providing federal public benefits to an individual who is not a US citizen or “qualified immigrant.”
More broadly, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on the actual or perceived race, color, or national origin by recipients of federal funds. This also means that individuals cannot be discriminated against based upon their primary language or English proficiency. Federal agencies also have clarified that practices such as unnecessary inquiries regarding immigration status, which deter access to benefits for eligible individuals in mixed status households, can raise Title VI concerns.
Federal civil rights laws include all service providers who receive federal funds. This includes any provider:
- Identified as a charitable nonprofit organization
- Of services identified as “necessary to protect life or safety”
- Of services that have not been explicitly designated as “federal means-tested public benefits" or “federal public benefits”
Federal laws often designate funds to be distributed to nonprofit organizations for the provision of specific services. Many sexual and domestic violence programs, for example, are funded through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and the Violence Against Women Act. Similarly, many nonprofit legal services providers are funded through the Legal Services Corporation Act and community health centers are funded through the Public Health Services Act. Providers (including sexual and/or domestic violence programs) that deny services to undocumented immigrants risk violating federal civil rights laws and loss of federal funding.
Legal Services Corporation
The regulations that govern the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) state that nonprofit legal services providers that receive federal funding via the LSC cannot provide services to most non-citizens, except for:
· brief service and consultation by telephone, intake, and referral services, all of which they can provide to anyone; and
· emergency legal assistance, which means they should be able to assist all immigrant survivors to file for and obtain temporary civil orders of protection.
Further representation is not permitted unless the individual can provide documentation of immigration status that qualifies them for representation.
There are, however, some exceptions that permit LSC-funded programs to provide services to certain groups of immigrant survivors, regardless of their immigration status. These include spouses, children, or parents of children who have been battered or subject to extreme cruelty; and victims of sexual assault, trafficking, or U-visa qualifying crimes.,
“Access to publicly funded legal services for immigrant survivors” by the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project.
Community health centers
Community health centers (formally, Federally Qualified Health Centers) fill many gaps for immigrant survivors who are not “qualified immigrants” and cannot otherwise access health care services. Community health centers are local, non-profit, federally-funded, community-owned health care centers that serve all residents regardless of insurance or immigration status, including those who are low income and from medically-underserved communities. Community health centers are tailored to the needs and priorities of their communities, and often provide services in linguistically and culturally relevant settings. These centers provide primary care and preventive services, and can include onsite dental, pharmaceutical, mental health, and substance abuse services. They may also provide case management, transportation, and help in applying for federal public benefits. The Health Resources and Services Administration of the US Department of Health and Human Services houses an online community health center locator.
 Fata, S., Orloff, L.E. & Drew, M. (2013). Access to programs and services that can help victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. In L. Orloff (Ed.), Empowering Survivors: Legal Rights of Immigrant Victims of Sexual Assault. National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project, Washington College of Law at American University, and Legal Momentum.
Olavarria, C., Baran, A., Orloff, L. & Huang, G. (2013). Access to programs and services that can help battered immigrants. In K. Sullivan & L. Orloff (Eds.), Breaking Barriers: A Complete Guide to Legal Rights and Resources for Battered Immigrants. National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project, Washington College of Law at American University, and Legal Momentum.
 See Interim Guidance on Verification of Citizenship, Qualified Alien Status and Eligibility under Title IV of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Attorney General Order No. 2129-97, Federal Register Vol. 62, No. 221 (November 17, 1997), Section D, for definitions of “nonprofit” and “charitable.”
 Program letter 06-2, Violence Against Women Act 2006 Amendments from Helaine M. Barnett, President, Legal Services Corporation to all LSC Program Directors (February 21, 2006).