By Mark R. Day
Escondido’s Latino and Anglo ethnic communities clashed on July 22 when the city’s all white male planning commission denied a conditional use permit for the second time to allow a federal contractor to open a 96 bed shelter to refugee children from Central America.
The city’s s 52 per cent Latino population was represented at the planning commission hearing by the pleas of a majority of young Latinos who asked the commissioners to open the shelter for humanitarian reasons.
Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service committee reminded the commissioners that Escondido had tarnished image of hate and bigotry in its past dealings with its Latino populations. “But this is a moment of truth,” he said.
“Opening up this shelter provides an opportunity to reverse those attitudes, to correct the mistakes of the past.”
Several speakers criticized the commissioners for permitting what they termed an atmosphere of intimidation and hate that pervaded the first hearing on the shelter on June 23 when opponents of the shelter vastly outnumbered its supporters.
Another speaker, immigrant rights advocate Caroline Theiss-Ard, pointed out that the shelter would not present land use issues. “It will not be a detention center,” she said, “but a children’s center, operated under the auspices of the U.S. Dept. Of Health and Human Services. “And unlike a nursing facility, here will not be a constant flow of ambulances and other health professionals. There will be very little traffic at a facility for unaccompanied minors.’
By contrast, a smaller number of mostly middle aged Anglo residents argued that the shelter would be too close to a residential area and that the children should be returned to their country of origin.
Escondido resident Doug Cosanne said he applauded the earlier decision of the planning commission to reject the shelter. “We do not have facilities to handle this influx of alleged migrant children,” he said. “And there are no guarantees of federal help.”
Loraine Saylen, also of Escondido, added: “I’ve heard a lot about compassion, but what about respect for our country and our laws? Illegal residents want to be here but disgrace us with their actions. I want a future for my children and other children of American citizens.”
When the commission voted for the second time to reject the request from Southwest Key Properties to oversee the shelter, several audience members shouted “Shame on you!” They later joined a large group of protesters outside the council chamber who had marched to the building from the Escondido swap meet.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union is contemplating legal action against the city of Escondido, according to David Loy, ACLU’s legal director for San Diego and Imperial Counties.
The ACLU is investigating whether discriminatory attitudes, and not the legal guidelines for such a shelter, were the basis for the commission’s vote.
Loy stated, “ It’s hard to see how a facility housing 96 people would be any different from the facility housing 96 people that was there a year ago.”
The ACLU earlier won two significant victories against the City of Escondido. In 2006 the city had to back down on an attempt to ban landlords from renting to undocumented residents. In 2012, the ACLU upheld the rights of those who protested DUI and driver’s license checkpoints by the Escondido Police Dept.
Southwest Key Properties has 10 days to appeal the planning commission’s vote.