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.”

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund