Settlement Helps Combat Discrimination Faced by Vulnerable Refugee Children
WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law announced Thursday it reached a settlement with the City of Escondido in a two-year-old exclusionary zoning suit impacting unaccompanied refugee children. The Lawyers’ Committee joined the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties and others in this suit which was brought after Escondido denied a nonprofit organization a conditional use permit to operate a group home for refugee children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America.
“This is an important settlement for organizations operating important, federally-funded programs that serve unaccompanied vulnerable children and sends a strong message that unjust discrimination against immigrant children will be challenged and will carry a significant price,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The City of Escondido’s discriminatory actions against vulnerable refugee children not only violated the law but also ran contrary to the principles of inclusion that define American democracy.”
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 plaintiff in this case, Southwest Key Programs, that provide housing and other services until they can be united with a parent, close relative or another caregiver.
Southwest Key Programs has run similar youth homes in California for years, as well as others in Arizona and Texas. Nevertheless, Escondido rejected the project after members of the public opposed the project, using harsh and discriminatory rhetoric including an assertion that it would bring an “undesirable taste” to the “demographic of our neighborhood.” This was contradicted by a report prepared by city staff documenting that the Southwest Key facility would not impose any significant adverse impact on the community, and would bring 90 new jobs and inject $6 or 7 million per year in new revenue into the community.
“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.”
In May 2015, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law joined with the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties and Brancart & Brancart, Cooley LLP to file the case charging Escondido with unlawful discrimination in violation of the federal and state fair housing laws. After extensive discovery, the court denied the city’s request to have the case dismissed in March 2017, paving the way toward trial on the question of whether the city committed unlawful discrimination.
The Escondido City Council approved the settlement in a closed session Wednesday, thus ending the lawsuit. Under the terms of the agreement, the city will pay $550,000 to Southwest Key.
View the full report at here.
About the Lawyers’ Committee
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. Formed over 50 years ago, we continue our quest of “Moving America Toward Justice.” The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice under law, particularly in the areas of fair housing and community development; economic justice; voting; education and criminal justice. For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee, visit www.lawyerscommittee.org.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law