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ACLU Sues Escondido For Rejecting Migrant Youth Shelter

Federal lawsuit says the city violated state and federal laws by denying the shelter a permit

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Escondido, accusing the city of unlawful discrimination in its rejection of a migrant youth shelter last year.

The American Civil Liberties Union says Escondido violated state and federal laws by refusing to allow a migrant youth shelter in its city.

Photo credit: Associated Press / Eduardo Verdugo

In this July 12, 2014, photo, Central American migrants climb on a north bound train during their journey toward the U.S.-Mexico border, in Ixtepec, Mexico.

The shelter would have served nearly 100 unaccompanied minors fleeing violence in Central America. City leaders denied a permit to Southwest Key, a housing provider that serves children with pending immigration cases who are awaiting caregiver placement. Southwest Key proposed locating the shelter first at a former motel and then at a former nursing home in Escondido.

David Loy, legal director for the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, said the lawsuit accuses the Escondido of discriminating against the youths in violation of federal and state fair housing laws and the U.S. Constitution.

“The opposition to this project was overtly or covertly based on discrimination,” he said. “The language that people used to oppose the project said things like it would result in ‘ghettoization’ impacts on the community. That it was not compatible with the demographic of the neighborhood.”

Escondido’s city attorney did not respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

Loy said the Constitution prohibits discrimination against people based on race, national origin, immigration status and more. He said the ACLU lawsuit also accuses the city of violating the Constitution’s supremacy clause, which states that federal law is supreme.

Photo by Jill Replogle

People packed the Escondido City Council chambers at a hearing on whether to allow a shelter for unaccompanied immigrant youth to open in a former nursing home, June 24, 2014.

“The city effectively banned Southwest Key, which is a federal contractor, from implementing federal policy … which requires safe and compassionate housing for unaccompanied children,” Loy said.

The federal government would have paid for the care of the minors at the shelter, and the ACLU argues that the shelter would have brought the city of Escondido close to 100 new jobs and up to $7 million in annual revenue.

Opponents to the migrant youth shelter packed city meetings last year, citing concerns such as traffic, parking and property values.

The lawsuit was filed in conjunction with Brancart & Brancart, Cooley LLP, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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