San Antonio, TX – Two San Antonio residents are seeking to block a for-profit company from opening a controversial detention center for migrant children on a church’s property, according to court documents filed Tuesday in federal court.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) filed a request to intervene on behalf of Lettye and Renee Watson, who support the City of San Antonio’s decision to deny a rezoning permit to the Second Baptist Church.
Last month, Second Baptist sued the city, alleging San Antonio violated the church’s religious freedom rights when the city refused to rezone a community center on the church campus. Second Baptist wants the zoning change in order to lease its building to VisionQuest, an Arizona-based detention company. VisionQuest has offered to pay the church $3.2 million to lease the center and turn it into a for-profit detention facility for migrant children detained at the border.
“Imprisoning children, who have already faced tremendous challenges in fleeing dangerous and life-threatening conditions, is morally repugnant,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “Allowing this to be done for private profit is a stain on our national social conscience; all residents have a stake in preventing this.”
The Watsons own a home in the same neighborhood as the church. They are asking the court to allow them to join the lawsuit because their legal interests in opposing the detention center are different from the city’s focus on preserving and enforcing its zoning laws.
“VisionQuest’s plan to detain children for profit, with all of the negative attention accompanying the caging of minors in need of support, will negatively affect not only the children, but also the surrounding residents and the neighborhood as a whole,” said Nina Perales, MALDEF vice president of litigation.
VisionQuest has come under scrutiny for conditions at other facilities it operates in several states, including allegations of abuse at a youth shelter in Pennsylvania.
MALDEF filed the motion to intervene in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. The court held a hearing Tuesday on a separate request filed by Second Baptist seeking a preliminary injunction. The judge in the case has not issued a ruling.
Read the motion HERE.