In October 2006, the City of Escondido, California, passed an anti-immigration ordinance that required landlords to ensure that they were not renting property to undocumented persons within the City of Escondido, and threatened them with civil and criminal penalties if they were found to have an undocumented tenant residing on their properties. The ordinance also made English the official language of the City.
MALDEF and a coalition of civil rights groups challenged the ordinance in federal court as a violation of numerous provisions of both state and federal law. MALDEF argued that the federal government has the exclusive authority to enforce its complicated and comprehensive immigration laws, and that landlords could not be “deputized” by local law to act as federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials. The plaintiffs also argued that under federal and state property and contract laws, it is illegal to discriminate against non-citizens.
Finding that the new ordinance posed “serious questions” of federal and state law, the Honorable Judge John Houston of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California granted the plaintiffs a Preliminary Injunction to prevent the ordinance from taking effect until after a full trial on the question of its constitutionality. Following this decision, the City of Escondido agreed to settle the lawsuit and to permanently enjoin enforcement of the ordinance.
This victory removed an unconstitutional and uncalled-for wedge in the Escondido community, and sent a message that immigration reform must occur at the national level.
Civil Rights Organizations Demand Repeal Of Unconstitutional Ordinance
October 30, 2008
ESCONDIDO, CA — A coalition of civil rights organizations and law firms has filed an official letter with the City of Escondido demanding that they repeal an unconstitutional anti-immigrant ordinance. The coalition, composed of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Fair Housing Council of San Diego, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), and People For the American Way (PFAW), is taking action against an ordinance passed by the Escondido City Council on October 18 which would ban renting an apartment to, or otherwise “harboring” any person “not lawfully present” in the United States. The coalition also includes the private law firms of Rosner & Mansfield LLP and Cooley Godward Kronish LLP.
The organizations are preparing to file suit against the city on the grounds that the ordinance is unconstitutional and illegal under federal and state law. It is preempted by federal law, which exclusively regulates immigration issues, and violates the property and contract rights of both landlords and tenants. It puts landlords in an impossible position, by requiring them to choose between violating the ordinance and violating state and federal fair housing and privacy laws. The request to repeal the ordinance is the first step by the civil rights coalition to overturn the measure and avoid having taxpayer dollars spent on a lawsuit defending an unconstitutional law.
“This ordinance will create hardship and homelessness, and will force hard-working families and their children out on the street,” said David Blair-Loy, Legal Director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties. “It is, quite simply, inhumane and illegal.”
Not only is the ordinance discriminatory and inhumane to potential residents, but the coalition argues that it also imposes an unfair burden on land owners, effectively forcing them to take actions that will discriminate based on race, color, or national origin, and placing them in the position of becoming federal law enforcement agents.
“The new law prohibiting rental of dwelling units to undocumented immigrants does nothing to actually alleviate the problem it purports to address: poor housing conditions,” stated Kristina Campbell, MALDEF Staff Attorney. “Instead, it encourages landlords and residents in the City of Escondido to identify and file complaints against individuals they believe to be ‘illegal immigrants,’ which will undoubtedly lead to illegal discrimination against tenants based on race, color, or national origin.”
Under federal fair housing laws, if it can be shown that an ordinance which fosters a policy or practice of exclusion from private market rentals based on citizenship or immigration status is actually a pretext for exclusion based upon national origin, race or color, it becomes a case of intentional discrimination. The disparate impact theory doesn’t look to intention, but rather points to the disproportionate and therefore discriminatory impact that the Escondido ordinance will have upon Latino families there.
“The ordinance is fraught with discriminatory potential,” said Mary Scott Knoll, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Council of San Diego. “In a region as diverse as San Diego, the chilling effect of the ordinance is far reaching.”
If the City is unwilling to repeal the ordinance and litigation is inevitable, the coalition has also requested that the City wait to enforce the ordinance pending a preliminary injunction hearing.
“What is this going to do for Latino citizens living in Escondido?” said Melissa Daar, PFAW California Policy and Field Director. “If this ordinance isn’t repealed, the city will put landlords in the unenviable position of having to harass and question anyone who might look like an immigrant. Daily life will become a series of assaults on their tenants’ dignity. The only good thing that can come out of this is that it will energize fair-minded Americans, and will encourage them to take a stand for human decency and prompt them to register and vote.”
Civil Rights Organizations File Suit Against City Of Escondido Over Unconstitutional Ordinance
November 03, 2006
ESCONDIDO, CA — A coalition of civil rights organizations and law firms announced a lawsuit they filed today against the City of Escondido, CA, on the grounds 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 has not responded to the letter as of this date.
The coalition, comprised of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 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.
“Irrespective of your position on the merits of the issue, you cannot comply with the Escondido ordinance and comply with California law,” stated Rosner & Mansfield attorney Alan Mansfield.
The coalition maintains 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 served 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.
“Under federal law, immigration issues belong only to the federal government,” stated 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.”
Other states and municipalities across the country have unsuccessfully attempted to adopt similarly divisive, unnecessary and illegal measures.
“Just as in Valley Park, MO and Hazelton, PA, Escondido residents will be wrongly evicted from their apartments, and discriminatorily denied access to their homes. And, just as in Valley Park and Hazelton, the city will be stopped from enforcing such a flawed and misguided ordinance” stated Kristina Campbell, 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.
“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 in housing against a host of Latino individuals and families and exacerbates the already tedious and difficult path to discrimination-free housing choices in our society.”
While the coalition moves forward with litigation, the organizations are requesting 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.”
MALDEF Opposes Anti-Immigrant City Ordinance In Escondido
Civil Rights Advocacy Organization Speaks Out Against Requiring Private Citizens of Escondido to Enforce Federal Immigration Law
August 16, 2006
ESCONDIDO, CA — Today, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), announced its strong opposition to the Escondido City Council’s proposed and discussed anti-immigrant ordinance. The proposal would penalize landlords for renting to undocumented immigrants and would make English the city’s official language. Councilwoman Marie Waldron offered the proposal at today’s city council meeting.
“From Hazelton, PA to Arizona, states and municipalities have attempted to adopt divisive, unproductive and illegal measures, purportedly to address immigration concerns,” said Kristina Campbell, MALDEF Staff Attorney. “The implementation of such an ordinance will expose the city of Escondido and its residents to lawsuits and subject employers and property owners to substantial civil and criminal fines. If enacted, the ordinance would effectively turn landlords and business owners into Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents,” added Campbell.
The proposed ordinance imposes federal jurisdiction on private citizens, business owners and landlords. California and Federal courts have already ruled against similar measures in LULAC v. Wilson, and Plyler v. Doe maintaining that it is an infringement on federal authority for local governments to enforce immigration policy.
Before the City Council today, Campbell relayed the incoherence of making private individuals and local governments responsible for ensuring federal law saying, “The focus of immigration reform should remain on those charged with enforcing immigration law—the federal government. The Escondido City Council should join other local legislative bodies to endorse fair, bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level. It would be cruel and burdensome for this City Council to shift that responsibility to landlords and employers trying to make a living in Escondido.”
MALDEF will continue to educate community members on these important matters across the county and prepare for possible litigation based on the unconstitutional ordinances where they have been enacted.