Civil Rights Organizations File Lawsuit Over Unconstitutional Ordinance in Escondido, CA

November 3, 2006 12:00 am

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ESCONDIDO, CA — A coalition of civil rights organizations and law firms today filed a lawsuit against the city of Escondido, charging that the city’s anti-immigration ordinance is unconstitutional and illegal under federal and state law. In a demand letter issued last week, the coalition urged the City Council to avoid spending taxpayer dollars on a lawsuit defending the unconstitutional ordinance, and pressed instead for the measure to be repealed before the November 18 implementation date. The city failed to respond to the letter.

The coalition, comprised of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Fair Housing Council of San Diego, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) and People For the American Way (PFAW), is challenging the anti-immigration ordinance passed by the Escondido City Council on October 18, which bans renting an apartment to undocumented residents. The coalition also includes the private law firms of Rosner & Mansfield LLP and Cooley Godward Kronish LLP.

“Under federal law, immigration issues belong only to the federal government,” said David Blair-Loy, Legal Director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “Under state law, non-citizens have the same property rights as citizens. Either way, Escondido has no business legislating in this area.”

The coalition said that the ordinance is in direct violation of federal immigration law, since the federal government exclusively is charged with enforcing immigration laws, and it puts landlords in the untenable situation of serving as federal law enforcement agents. It also violates the property and contract rights of both landlords and tenants, as well as federal fair housing and privacy laws, and disproportionately discriminates against Latino families.

“Irrespective of your position on the merits of the issue, you cannot comply with the Escondido ordinance and comply with California law,” said Rosner & Mansfield attorney Alan Mansfield.

Other states and municipalities across the country have unsuccessfully attempted to adopt similarly divisive, unnecessary and illegal measures.
“Just as in Valley Park, Missouri and Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Escondido residents will be wrongly evicted from their apartments and discriminatorily denied access to their homes. And just as in Valley Park and Hazleton, the city will be stopped from enforcing such a flawed and misguided ordinance,” said Kristina Campbell, a MALDEF staff attorney.

Not only is the ordinance in violation of state and federal law, but it also presents a humanitarian crisis given the homelessness that will result from the law’s implementation, said the groups.

“Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination based upon national origin or other ‘protected’ class status,” said Mary Scott Knoll, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Council of San Diego. “The ordinance opens a wide door for discrimination against a host of Latino individuals and families, and exacerbates the already tedious and difficult path to discrimination-free housing choices in our society.”
The coalition has requested that the city wait to enforce the ordinance pending a preliminary injunction hearing.

“We understand some of the frustration over immigration. Congress and President Bush had promised us comprehensive immigration reform to fix our broken system,” said Melissa Daar, California Policy and Field Director for People For the American Way. “But our frustration should be directed where it belongs – at the president and his allies in Congress, who could not come up with just and humane reform legislation. Escondido’s law comes disguised as a strike against lawlessness, but it will instead foment discrimination against anyone who simply looks like he or she might be an undocumented worker, citizen and non-citizen alike.”

A PDF copy of the complaint is available at:

A PDF copy of the ordinance is available at:

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