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Bad plan, Escondido

A city ordinance that turns landlords into immigration snitches is poor policy. It's a job best left to the feds.

November 02, 2006

ARE YOU paying attention, Escondido? As Hazleton, Pa., is hopefully finding out, making criminals of landlords who rent to illegal immigrants is not only counterproductive as a practical matter, it's probably illegal too.

Escondido, the 140,000-resident city in northern San Diego County, passed an ordinance last month forcing landlords to verify the immigration status of their tenants and evict within 10 days anyone here illegally, or face suspension of their business license, fines and/or criminal charges.

It's the latest in a series of ill-advised attempts nationwide to turn federal immigration law into a municipal law-enforcement issue.

The national trailblazer on this front has been Hazleton, which in September passed ordinances fining landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and denying business permits to companies that hire them. But this week, a federal judge blocked enforcement of the ordinances until a legal challenge works its way through the courts.

The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties is threatening to sue Escondido too, and with good reason. In a heavily Latino area, the ordinance would undermine a generation of fair-housing laws by creating a hostile market for a significant number of prospective renters. Why trust the validity of a Latino's documents when you can rent to a non-Latino white family? The ordinance's 10-day rule ignores tenants' long-standing state right to contest their evictions in court. And landlords naturally complain about being turned into cops.

Where would the evicted families go? Children would still attend school, parents would still have jobs, but families would either be homeless or forced to find emergency shelter elsewhere. Those who stay would likely recede further into a shadow world of phony documents and black market labor, avoiding authorities at all costs. That's dangerous for the entire community.

San Bernardino County almost put a similar measure on its ballot for this fall. Costa Mesa this year ordered its police to enforce federal immigration law. Supporters of such measures say they're necessary because federal officials have failed to act. On this they have an excellent point. However, the whole country -- not just a city here and a county there -- needs the federal government to enact reforms that will bring out of the shadows the workers and neighbors on whom the economy relies.

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