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ACLU may fight for California shelter

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POSTED July 22, 2014 7:55 p.m.

ESCONDIDO (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday it was mulling legal options after a north San Diego suburb’s planning commission rejected plans for a 96-bed shelter for unaccompanied immigrant children who are arrested by the Border Patrol.

The proposal has sparked the latest controversy over immigration in Escondido, a city of 150,000 that has been rocked during the last decade by disagreement over how to treat people who are in the country illegally. The city planning commission voted 7-0 last month to reject the plan at a raucous meeting attended by hundreds of people. It was scheduled to vote late Tuesday to ratify its decision.

David Loy, legal director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties, said at a news conference outside City Hall that Escondido may be violating state and federal fair-housing laws against discrimination. Southwest Key Programs, the nonprofit group that would operate the shelter, sent representatives to the news conference and said it was being advised by the ACLU.

Southwest Key has not said if it will appeal to the City Council. The company contracts with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to operate child-immigrant shelters across the country, including a temporary facility at Naval Base Ventura County, north of Los Angeles.

Alexia Rodriguez, Southwest Key’s vice president of immigrant children’s services and legal counsel, said the San Antonio-based group was unaware of Escondido’s fraught history with illegal immigration when it conducted a nationwide search for shelters in response to a surge of illegal crossings by unaccompanied children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. The group identified several sites in Escondido before settling on a former nursing home that closed last year, she said.

The ACLU’s Loy said traffic and other concerns against the proposed shelter didn’t prevent the city from allowing the nursing home to operate.

Joyce Masterson, the city’s director of economic development and community relations, said the ACLU has not told the city of any plans for legal action when asked to comment. The city complied with the ACLU’s requests for information on the topic, Masterson said.

Escondido, whose population is 49 percent Latino, has repeatedly embroiled itself in immigration debates since 2006, when the City Council voted to require landlords to check tenants’ immigration status. A federal judge blocked the ordinance, which never took effect.

Shelter opponents appeared at the news conference carrying small American flags. Some shouted at the speakers.

“We can’t even take care of the people who live here,” said Rigo Avelar of the neighboring suburb of San Marcos. “It’s just not the place for this.”

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