Politics & Policy

Democrats Organize Protest After California Town Rejects Illegal-Immigrant Shelter

ACLU threatens Escondido over objection to housing illegal immigrants.

Escondido, Calif., Democrats organized protesters who disrupted a Tuesday planning-commission meeting about a plan to shelter illegal-immigrant children in the town.

In advance of the meeting, the Escondido Democratic Club — a “chartered club” of the San Diego County Democratic party, according to its website—sent out an “Action Alert” containing black-and-white photos of children who appear unhappy. The email asked the group’s followers to attend the meeting because “the shelter will bring in an additional $8.5 million per shelter, will bring hundreds of new jobs to the city, and has the federal right to establish itself, there is really no rational reason why the city would deny Southwest Key its permit.” Southwest Key is the nonprofit organization HHS had tasked with operating the proposed Escondido facility.

The meeting focused on the federal Department of Health and Human Services’ application to open a shelter for illegal-immigrant children at a pre-existing facility in the town of 140,000 in San Diego County’s North County region. The commission had already decided unanimously to​ deny the application at an earlier meeting, but Democrats angrily protested the commission’s Tuesday-night affirmation of its earlier decision.

The email from the Escondido Democratic Club also attempted to stir up Democrats’ passion by saying, “At the last planning commission meeting, blatant racism drove the conversation. This calls for change.” The previous meeting included public comments from more than 150 people, Escondido city planning commissioner Jeff Weber told National Review Online at the time. Weber described the standing-room-only crowd at the first meeting as well behaved.

After the commissioners affirmed their decision at Tuesday’s meeting, some of the protesters supporting taxpayer-provided housing for illegal immigrants shouted “shame on all of you” and carried signs that read “Deport Racists Not Children,” according to the local CBS station. In its news coverage of the event, CBS declared, “The Escondido Planning Commission is shamed for standing by its decision to deny a conditional use permit for an unaccompanied child migrant center.”

The American Civil Liberties Union reportedly agrees with the CBS news team. It has begun considering legal action against the commission, according to KPBS. A representative of the local ACLU affiliate told the station Escondido may have violated both state and federal laws regarding fair housing and land use by denying the conditional use permit to allow illegal immigrants to obtain shelter free of charge.

After the commission first decided to deny the application, Weber told NRO that locating the proposed shelter in the heart of a residential-zoned area was inappropriate, and that this was the primary reason he and other commissioners rejected the HHS application. The ACLU thinks the commission’s reasoning may be “just a pretext for discrimination.”

The city of Escondido’s history with the ACLU may have given the organization reason to expect the threat of a lawsuit would intimidate the Escondido commissioners. In 2012, Escondido police reportedly tried to keep supporters of illegal immigration from protesting at driver’s license and sobriety checkpoints, according to KPBS, but the city agreed to a settlement after the ACLU took legal action.

The ACLU of San Diego has not responded to NRO’s requests for comment.

— Ryan Lovelace is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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