The federal government will not allow landlords to use Arizona's controversial immigration reform law to violate federal housing discrimination laws, a top government official told local businesspeople attending a joint meeting of the city's main minority chambers of commerce on Thursday.
John Trasviña, assistant secretary of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, promised the chamber members that his agency would prevent the Arizona law from becoming an excuse for housing discrimination.
"The Fair Housing Act still applies in Arizona. Our message to them (landlords) is the law does not give them the right to check on the immigration status of tenants," Trasviña said.
The assistant HUD secretary told about 200 Latin, Urban and Asian chamber members that the federal government is still examining the law's legality.
"The Justice Department is still looking at whether the state of Arizona has the power to pass the law it passed," Trasviña said.
The Arizona law -- SB 1070 -- requires law enforcement officials to verify a person's immigration status if the officials have reason to believe the person is in the country illegally. Civil libertarians and other opponents have charged the law encourages racial profiling.
Trasviña said he would not let the Arizona law set back decades of progress toward equality in housing, dating back to the 1968 Fair Housing Act. Subsequent housing equality laws over the years have added civil rights protection for women and the disabled.
The Arizona law became a hot -- and uncomfortable -- subject for many of the people attending Thursday's luncheon at Bally's. A number of audience members quietly exited when a speaker seemed likely to address the topic.
Latin Chamber of Commerce Vice Chairman Alex Garza was one of those who addressed the law during the gathering.
He used his time, earmarked for welcoming remarks, to voice his contempt for SB 1070.
"I find comfort in the fact that I don't live in Arizona. I can walk through Harrah's hotel and arrive without any fear that I will be asked for my papers because I'm 'pigmentally advanced,' " he said.
Garza acknowledged his comments likely made some audience members uneasy.
"If the thought of minority empowerment makes you uneasy ... sit back and pop an antacid, but remember they come in all colors and sizes."
Trasviña said ensuring there is no discrimination in housing because of race is not enough. He would like to see federal legislation to protect gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals from housing discrimination.
"The job is not done," he added.
Contact reporter Valerie Miller at email@example.com or 702-387-5286.