By Doug Porter
The City of Escondido has settled a two-year-old discrimination lawsuit, filed by the ACLU following denial of a permit to operate a group home for refugee children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America.
The terms of the agreement, whereby Escondido will pay $550,000 without admitting liability were approved at a closed session of the City Council on Wednesday evening.
The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, Brancart & Brancart, Cooley LLP and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law made the deal public via a press release issued on Thursday, May 25.
David Loy, Legal Director of the ACLU of San Diego, stated:“Escondido has a history of unjust bias against immigrants. With this settlement, Escondido is on notice that such discriminatory practices will not go unchallenged.”
Here’s the background on the lawsuit:
- In February 2014, Southwest Key Programs approached the City of Escondido about potential locations to house unaccompanied refugee children arriving at the U.S. southern border. Many of these children are victims of abuse and human trafficking.
- The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement places these children with approved contractors, such as the nonprofit Southwest Key Programs, to provide housing and other services until they can be united with a parent, close relative or another caregiver pending the resolution of their immigration status.
- Southwest Key Programs has run similar youth homes in Lemon Grove and El Cajon for years, as well as others in Arizona, Texas, and elsewhere in California. Nevertheless, Escondido rejected the project after members of the public, many using harsh and hateful rhetoric, opposed the project.
- In May 2015, the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties joined with its partner law firms to file the case charging Escondido with unlawful discrimination. After extensive discovery, the court denied the city’s request to throw out the case in March 2017, paving the way toward trial on the question of whether the city committed intentional discrimination or created an unjustified disparate impact.
Here’s a snip from San Diego Free Press coverage in May 2015:
It’s not like the city council considered the permit request by Southwest Key Programs for temporary housing for unaccompanied minors from Central America in a vacuum. Consider this op-ed in Voice and Viewpoint by Carla Stayboldt:
The pictures on the front page over the last two weeks have been polarizing to San Diego citizens and rightfully so. The first on June 25th was a group of almost all white people at a meeting of the Escondido Planning Commission that voted 7-0 against a request by the DHHS to open a 96 bed shelter that would serve unaccompanied undocumented children. A week later on July 2nd, another group of predominantly white people, carrying American flags and posters “RETURN TO SENDER”, “NO NEW ILLEGALS,” surrounded buses of 140 parent/child immigrants outside the Border Patrol Station in Murrieta, escorted by local law enforcement and the Border Patrol. That scene harkens back to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s when the Freedom Riders’ buses were surrounded, riders beaten and buses burned. While these mostly white protestors couch their criticism in terms of law and proper procedure, what explains the anger and implied violence of their protests? It is that insidious, seldom acknowledged, “white privilege” that is so pervasive in our culture that we don’t even realize we’re benefiting from it; for us, it’s like breathing.
What she describes is the context surrounding the actions of the city council in Escondido. Their rejection came despite a staff report documenting that Southwest Key would bring 90 new jobs and inject $6 or 7 million per year in new revenue into the community and would not impose any significant adverse impact on the community. This is nothing short of racist hysteria, I don’t care what they want to call it.