Garrett v. City of Escondido, California

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.

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