ACLU settles 2-year refugee children discrimination lawsuit vs. city of Escondido

An entire family emerges from the bushes on the Mexican bank of the Rio Bravo --reduced in that particular point to a narrow stream-- 11 April, 2006 near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico/AFP PHOTO/Omar TORRES

The ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, Brancart & Brancart, Cooley LLP and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law announced Thursday, May 25 it had reached a settlement with the City of Escondido in a two year-old discrimination suit. The ACLU sued Escondido after the city denied a permit to operate a group home for refugee children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America.

On Wednesday, the Escondido City Council met in closed session and voted to approve the settlement. Under the terms of the agreement, the city will pay $550,000 without admission of liability.

“One of the reasons that we filed this case against the City of Escondido was to send a message that discrimination carries a price and we believe this settlement sends such a message,” said Joseph D. Rich, co-director of the Fair Housing and Community Development Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which was one of the co-counsel in the case. “We are pleased that the city chose to accept this agreement.”

David Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego, added:“Escondido has a history of unjust bias against immigrants. With this settlement, Escondido is on notice that such discriminatory practices will not go unchallenged.”

Alexia Rodriguez, Southwest Key’s vice president of immigrant Children’s Services and Legal Counsel, said the organization is grateful to the lawyers involved in the case for defending the rights of unaccompanied immigrant children.

“We will continue to work to educate others so that one day no children are left to fend for themselves due to ignorance and fear in their communities,” Rodriguez said.

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.

This settlement ends the lawsuit.

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