SAN ANTONIO, TX– A federal court on Friday allowed two San Antonio residents, who are seeking to block a for-profit company from opening a controversial detention center for migrant children, to intervene in a lawsuit.

In February, MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) filed a motion to intervene on behalf of Lettye and Renee Watson, two residents who live near a proposed detention center at the heart of a lawsuit filed by a church that partnered with the private detention firm.  The church’s lawsuit contends that San Antonio must grant the church a zoning variance in order to allow VisionQuest, a private detention firm, to operate a child detention facility in a residential neighborhood.

“Neither VisionQuest nor Second Baptist have any constitutional right to lock up immigrant children for profit,” said Nina Perales, MALDEF vice president of litigation and counsel in the case.  “The Watsons look forward to participating in this litigation, starting with their motion to dismiss the case.”

In his ruling, Senior U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra held that the Watsons met all the requirements for intervention, including showing that, as nearby property owners, they have an important stake in the outcome of the lawsuit.  The judge also allowed the Watsons to file a motion to dismiss the church’s case.

The church sued San Antonio officials in January, alleging that the City violated the church’s religious freedom rights by refusing to rezone a community center on the church campus.

“Jailing innocent kids in exchange for money has no moral or political legitimacy,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.  “And the veneer of religion offers this abominable practice no protective sanction.”

Second Baptist sought a 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 immigrant children.

VisionQuest has come under scrutiny for conditions at other facilities it operates in several states, including allegations of abuse at a youth.

Read the ruling HERE and a timeline HERE