David Fried
Escondido votes to draft ban on renting to illegal immigrant
Fri Aug 18, 2006 00:13

 
Escondido votes to draft ban on renting to illegal immigrants

By: DAVID FRIED - Staff Writer
http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2006/08/17/news/inland/16_01_168_16_06.txt


Protesters outside Escondido's council meeting where members discuss Councilwoman Marie Waldron`s proposal to ban renting property in Escondido to illegal immigrants.
Waldo Nilo

ESCONDIDO ---- Drawing on similar efforts around the country, a divided City Council voted Wednesday to begin drafting an ordinance that would ban illegal immigrants from renting property in Escondido.

Before casting its 3-2 vote, the council listened to more than two hours of impassioned pleas from community members on the merits or faults of the proposal, the brainchild of Councilwoman Marie Waldron.

Cast as a debate on how to combat overcrowding in the city's residential neighborhoods, Waldron's plan hinges on prohibiting landlords from renting their property to anyone who cannot prove United States citizenship.

"It's not the only cause," Waldron said, "but one of the root causes of overcrowding is illegal immigration."

Few of the five dozen speakers from the overflow crowd, however, made mention of residential overcrowding, focusing instead on illegal immigration.

Those in favor of the proposed ban called it necessary to combat what they termed "an invasion" of illegal immigrants and a way to counter the federal government's failure to enforce existing laws.

Those opposed said it would divide the city, unfairly burden landlords, cost unknown amounts in legal challenges, and smacked of racism.

The crowd of residents filled the chambers and spilled outdoors, where the proceedings were shown on television. Escondido police assigned extra patrol officers to monitor the meeting as a precaution, but the meeting was peaceful, police Sgt. Justin Murphy said.

The debate pitted residents, property owners, business professionals and military veterans against each other, each arguing their beliefs.

Charles Mallon of San Diego said that, as a Korean War veteran, he fought to keep his country and its borders safe.

"If we were to enforce our current immigration laws, we wouldn't be having this hearing today," Mallon said. "And some of our speakers wouldn't be here, either."

Shortly after, Vicente Rodriguez, also a veteran from San Diego, said the ban was a slap in the face of all he had fought for.

"I spent those years (in the military) so we could be free," Rodriguez, 67, said. "I didn't spend those years so that my citizenship could be challenged if I come to rent a place in Escondido."

Landlords countered that the proposed ordinance would set them up for potential lawsuits under state and federal fair housing laws, and that, when it came to overcrowding in Escondido, the council and others had presented many allegations, and few verified facts.

"We need to know how bad is this situation," said one Escondido landlord, who suggested the city perform a detailed study of the problem. "Then you can make some decision."

The immigration debate began even before the council discussion started, with a brief camera battle that erupted shortly before the meeting, with both sides snapping pictures of the other.

Anti-illegal immigrant protesters ended the traditional recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance with the phrase, "with liberty and justice for all citizens."

And when Waldron entered Council Chambers, supporters of the proposal gave her a round of raucous cheers, followed by boos from opponents of the ban.

Waldron first pitched the idea early last month, shortly after the city of Hazleton, Pa., approved its own legislation. In June, Hazleton's council passed what it called an Illegal Immigration Relief Act for the town of 31,000.

The ordinance is considerably broader than Waldron's proposal, not only banning rentals to illegal immigrants, but denying business licenses to companies that hire undocumented workers and establishing English as the city's official language.

The Pennsylvania city's action set off an echo of similar legislation in a handful of small towns along the East Coast.

Councilman Ed Gallo said the quality of life issues associated with illegal immigration has been building to a boiling point for decades, and that it was the council's duty to combat it.

"Our charge is to provide for the health and safety of the residents of Escondido," Gallo said. "Is it wrong then to ask them to be here legally?"

But Councilman Ron Newman ---- who along with Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler voted against drafting an ordinance ---- said he understood why the issue had garnered so much support, but denounced the proposal as a political ploy by Waldron, who is seeking re-election.

"What politicians do is they attach their name to a popular issue and do it during an election cycle," Newman said. "It's done on a national level. Done on the state level. And now it's taking place in Escondido, and it's ugly. And it should be exposed for what it is: The Hispanic community is being used as pawns."

Waldron denied the accusation.

As an example of the problem, Waldron cited Mission Park, Escondido's poorest neighborhood. The area has the dubious distinction of claiming the fastest-growing poverty rate in the state, according to a recent city-commissioned report. It is also an area where signs of overcrowding ---- such as over-parked driveways and streets ---- are rampant.

While there is no way of determining how many Mission Park residents are undocumented immigrants, the majority were born in other countries, especially Mexico, according to census data. And 66 percent speak primarily Spanish, according to the city's survey of the area.

About 42 percent of Escondido's 141,000 residents are Latino, up from about 16 percent in 1990, according to the San Diego Association of Governments.

Newman said that passing such an ordinance was tantamount to "paint(ing) a big red target on our city that says, 'Please come forward and sue us.' "

Indeed, any potential ban in Escondido is almost sure to draw legal challenges, as has already happened with other cities' efforts to pass local immigration legislation.

This week, a coalition of civil rights groups filed a lawsuit against Hazleton. And in nearby Vista, the city has had to hire an outside attorney to help combat legal challenges to its recently passed ordinance requiring individuals to register with the city before hiring day laborers.

While Vista officials have not said how much they anticipate the legal battle will cost, the private attorney handling the case is paid $250 an hour, according to Vista's city attorney.

-- Contact David Fried at (760) 740-5416 or dfried@nctimes.com.


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