December 14, 2006

Civil Rights Groups Welcome Decision, Call Proposed Rental Ban "Unconstitutional and Discriminatory"

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: media@aclu.org

SAN DIEGO - In an unexpected but welcome reversal, the city of Escondido has agreed not to enforce a controversial city ordinance that bans renting apartments to undocumented immigrants, a coalition of civil rights organizations announced today.

The agreement is part of a settlement proposed by the city in response to a legal challenge brought by the coalition. A federal judge had already granted a temporary restraining order against the ordinance last month. Coalition attorneys said they believe that it is in the best interest of Escondido and its residents for the city to forego a costly and likely losing case. 

"We made it clear before the ordinance was voted on that it would not stand up to legal scrutiny," said David Blair-Loy, Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties, a member of the coalition that fought the measure. 

The Escondido residents and landlords who filed the lawsuit said they were thrilled by the turn of events.  "I'm glad the city came to its senses and settled this case," said Roy Garrett, a landlord and plaintiff. 

The lawsuit charged that the ordinance was illegal and unconstitutional on a number of grounds, including that it was preempted by federal law and violated due process and the property, fair housing and contract rights of both landlords and tenants.

Federal Judge John Houston said last month that the ordinance raised "serious questions" about a number of federal and state issues, and expressed concern about tenants being evicted without due process or a public hearing.  Judge Houston must approve the settlement before it goes into effect.

The ACLU was joined in the lawsuit by the Fair Housing Council of San Diego, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), People for the American Way, and three private law firms - Brancart & Brancart, Cooley Godward Kronish LLP, and Rosner & Mansfield, LLP.

"In light of the ordinance's significant constitutional shortcomings, an early resolution is to everyone's benefit," said Phillip Tencer of Cooley Godward Kronish, LLP.

"It is our hope that Escondido will now focus its efforts on bringing its people together, not driving wedges between them," said Alan Mansfield of Rosner & Mansfield, LLP.  "It is also our hope that other cities will do the right thing, as Escondido has, and either suspend or repeal similar ordinances."

Omar Jadwat, an attorney with the national ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, added, "Other cities that have similar legislation should heed the lesson of this case. These ordinances will not withstand challenge, and must be repealed."

In response to today's announcement, MALDEF called upon the new Congress and President Bush to enact comprehensive immigration reform early in 2007.

"Local anti-immigrant ordinances are contrary to the Constitution and bad public policy. Many have been defeated across the country and have left communities divided," said MALDEF staff attorney Kristina Campbell.  "While Congress failed to enact comprehensive immigration reform this year, at least the city of Escondido has taken a positive step by rejecting an unworkable and unlawful proposal that divided the community and would not have brought us closer to immigration reform."

The judge's order is available at: www.aclu.org/immigrants/discrim/27770lgl20061215.html

For more information on the case, go to
www.aclu.org/immigrants/discrim/27296prs20061103.html

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