Targeting Landlords Who Rent to Illegal Immigrants

The city of Escondido, Calif., has become the latest community in the nation to crack down on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants. The new ordinance allows residents and business owners, as well as city officials to file complaints if they suspect a landlord is renting to illegal immigrants.

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And here are some other election developments. Incumbent Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who lost the Democratic Party primary in August, has pulled way ahead of the party nominee Ned Lamont. The latest poll gives a 17-point lead to Lieberman, who's running as an independent. He and Lamont will face each other Monday night in a final televised debate.

And the Associated Press has published data from the Census Bureau that political analysts will be sure to chew over. It turns out that between the years 2000 and 2005, congressional districts held by Republicans added a total of about three million immigrants to their population. This is nearly twice as many as the number of immigrants who settled in Democratic districts. The newcomers include both legal and undocumented residents, and this brings us to our next story.

A city in Southern California has become the latest in a small number of communities across the country to crack down on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants. The Escondido City Council has passed a measure that slaps fines on landlords who rent to undocumented immigrants and could send repeat offenders to jail. From member station KPBS in San Diego, Amy Isackson has the story.

AMY ISACKSON: Audience members rushed to the front of the Escondido City Council chambers after the vote earlier this week to congratulate councilmembers for passing the measure.

Unidentified Woman: Awesome. You did a - seriously, I'm so proud of you.

Unidentified Man: We're taking this (unintelligible)....

Unidentified Woman: Thank you for not giving up the fight.

ISACKSON: Some snap photos with the measure lead author. A group of Minute Men talked about where to go for drinks to celebrate. Outside City Hall, Councilman Ed Gallo called it an historic day for Escondido.

Councilman ED GALLO (Escondido City Council): Somebody had the cajones to say we're going to do something...

ISACKSON: Under the new ordinance, residents, businesses and city officials can file complaints with the city if they suspect a landlord is renting to illegal immigrants. Landlords then have to show their tenants' immigration papers to the city, which in turn will pass the documents on to federal officials for verification.

Landlords whose renters are found to be in the country illegally would have 10 days to evict their tenants or face penalties. The measure is modeled on one passed this summer in Hazelton, Pennsylvania. The Escondido ordinance was championed by Councilwoman Marie Waldron, who's running for reelection in November. She says the number one complaint she receives from constituents is overcrowding, and she says illegal immigrants are in part to blame.

Councilwoman MARIE WALDRON (Escondido City Council): This will be one tool to address the issue. It's a way to address it at the local level when the federal government has let us down.

ISACKSON: Escondido's Latino population has grown substantially in the last 15 years. The once sleepy agricultural fields 30 miles north of San Diego have given way to suburban development. Many Latinos who once lived on the outskirts have moved into town, one the last areas of affordable housing in high-priced San Diego. Escondido is now 42 percent Latino, up from just 16 percent in 1990.

Officials say there's no way to know how many are illegal immigrants, but there's no doubt that for some residents of this conservative community, the growing Latino presence is scary.

Councilwoman Waldron says illegal immigrants hurt the community in many ways, including by exposing school children to diseases like TB and leprosy, though county health officials say there's no evidence to support that claim.

Many Latino residents in Escondido say they feel under siege. After the vote, Cole Fry(ph) stood on the sidewalk outside City Hall with a sign that said USA is not Nazi Germany.

Mr. COLE FRY (Protester): They're blaming people for ills and stuff like that, you know, and they're spreading fear, just like they did back in the 1930s.

ISACKSON: The ordinance comes after weeks of protests in the community.

(Soundbite of protesters)

ISACKSON: Dozens of immigrants rights activists spoke out against the ordinance at earlier council hearings. They say it is racist. It will force landlords not to rent to anyone who looks Mexican. They say landlords will become immigration agents. But the final vote this week brought fewer protesters to City Hall. Escondido Latino activist Danny Perez says this time most chose not to waste their breath.

Mr. DANNY PEREZ (Escondido Latino Activist): We're going to let our lawyers do all the talking.

ISACKSON: San Diego ACLU executive director Kevin Keenan says the ordinance is unconstitutional and plans to sue.

Mr. KEVIN KEENAN (Executive Director, San Diego ACLU): The Constitution is very clear that it's a federal responsibility to do immigration law, not every local ordinance. So this ordinance that they've passed is preempted by the federal Constitution, federal law.

ISACKSON: Keenan hopes to file an injunction before the ordinance takes effect next month. That's what happened in Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Because of an ACLU lawsuit, the city has yet to enforce its ban on renting to illegal immigrants. For NPR News, I'm Amy Isackson in San Diego.

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