SAN ANTONIO, TX – A church group that sued the City of San Antonio after it was denied a permit that would have allowed it to lease some of its land to a controversial for-profit detention company abruptly ended the lawsuit.
Last week, Second Baptist Church dismissed the case with prejudice. MALDEF represented two homeowners who live in the neighborhood where the church planned to lease the land and who intervened in the lawsuit to oppose the creation of a child-migrant detention center in their neighborhood.
“The First Amendment does not exist to permit the abuse of the human rights of others,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “The appropriate conclusion of this lawsuit ensures that the rights of migrant youth will not be subordinated to the non-existent right to cage children as an element of religious practice.”
In 2019, Second Baptist Church sued the city after its request for a zone change was denied, alleging the rejection violated the church’s religious freedom rights. The church planned to lease the land to VisionQuest, an Arizona-based for-profit firm that operates detention facilities in several states. The company offered to pay Second Baptist $3.2 million to lease the community center on its campus and operate it as a detention center for migrant children.
“Despite numerous attempts by Second Baptist Church and VisionQuest to portray the desired facility as a safe haven for migrant children, the danger and harm caused by this type of facility are undeniable,” said Fátima Menéndez, MALDEF staff attorney. “We are hopeful that this dismissal will be the end of the pursuit by Second Baptist Church and VisionQuest to detain migrant children who are often already the victims of unspeakable tragedy and violence.”
Second Baptist’s plan to rezone faced push-back from the start with community members, MALDEF attorneys, and local officials objecting to the placement of a child-migrant detention center in the area. Some of the community opposition was directed at VisionQuest which has a record of abuse and neglect of the children in its charge.