Judge Blocks Illegal-Immigrant Housing Ordinance

Ordinance Won't Affect Anyone Already Living In City

Hours before it was set to take effect, an illegal-immigrant housing ordinance in the city of Escondido was blocked Thursday by a federal judge.

Civil rights groups claim the law is unconstitutional.

U.S. District Court Judge Houston issued a temporary restraining order blocking the law, saying the city of Escondido failed to show that a delay in implementing the ordinance -- which was scheduled to take effect Friday -- would prejudice the city in any material way.

But Houston said those affected by the law could suffer economic damages.

"The court finds there is irreparable harm on landlords and tenants," the judge said.

Houston also said there were questions whether the law conflicts with federal regulations and said there were questions concerning due process for those who would be affected by the law.

The judge said the city of Escondido did not show how those affected by the ordinance would get a hearing "in a meaningful time or manner."

Houston said a Nov. 10 memorandum written by Escondido City Manager Clay Phillips -- which said the law would apply only to illegal immigrants who move into the city or enter into lease agreements after tomorrow -- was beyond the city manager's authority.

Houston said the city manager "stepped into the role of the City Council."

The change by the city manager came after attorneys the city had hired to defend the ordinance apparently concluded that it would not survive a legal challenge by the civil rights groups, including the ACLU.

In part, the lawsuit filed by the ACLU argues that the ordinance would be pre-empted by federal laws governing immigration and that it forces landlords to evict tenants without due process.

The judge said he would issue a written ruling within two business days and said a preliminary injunction hearing would be held in 90 to 120 days.

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