Federal complaint challenges Texas town's new ban on housing any border kids

Susan Ferriss

Civil rights groups filed a federal complaint Tuesday challenging a Texas city’s ban on providing housing to “refugees” or foreigners such as the Central American children who’ve been turning themselves in at the border.

The complaint against an ordinance adopted July 8 by League City, a Houston suburb, was filed by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, or MALDEF, and Appleseed, a Texas public-interest law group. Appleseed has researched dangers faced by Mexican and Central American migrant children.

The complaint argues that the ordinance — one of a number being contemplated in Texas — is discriminatory and violates the Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “There is particularly ugly language about Muslims in this League City ordinance also,” said Maddie Sloan, an Appleseed attorney.

The number of children from Central America showing up along the U.S.-Mexico border has surged this year.  Since last October, more than 52,000 minors, many of them without parents, have been detained, double the total number of such kids detained during all of last year. For some kids, a Department of Homeland Security assessment found, violence in their countries is so great that the risk of traveling alone “is preferable to remaining at home.”

Marisa Bono, a MALDEF attorney, said the complaint against League City “is a warning to other municipalities that are considering similar resolutions. Cities can’t accept federal funds, and then use them to discriminate.”

The complaint asks the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate and halt ordinances aimed at “vulnerable children.”  

The League City ordinance, approved in a 6-2 vote, lists a number of allegations that elected officials say motivated them to outlaw the provision of housing for children.

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This story is part of Juvenile Justice. Scrutinizing controversial policies affecting young people at risk. Click here to read more stories in this investigation.

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Copyright 2014 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.