Southwest Key Programs v. City of Escondido



Since 2011, hundreds of thousands of unaccompanied children have entered the United States. Most come from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, seeking refuge from violence and persecution.

The Office of Refugee Resettlement, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is required by federal law to ensure care is provided for unaccompanied children while their immigration cases are pending. ORR places children with contractors such as Southwest Key Programs, which provides housing and services under licensing and oversight by state child care agencies, until children can be placed with a parent or close relative.

Southwest Key already successfully operates immigrant youth housing in Lemon Grove, El Cajon,and elsewhere across the country, and received federal approval to expand its operations in San Diego County in response to greater numbers of children crossing the border recently.


Southwest Key found suitable locations in Escondido, including several motels and a former skilled nursing facility, now empty. The City first denied permission to convert several motels, so Southwest Key applied for a permit to convert the empty nursing home into a temporary shelter. Despite undisputed evidence that Southwest Key would bring millions of dollars and more than 100 jobs into the local economy without adverse impact on the community, it ran into a firestorm of opposition based on xenophobia, hostility, and bias.

When both the Escondido Planning Commission and then the City Council denied a Conditional Use Permit, the San Diego ACLU filed a lawsuit on May 18, 2015, charging the City of Escondido with manufacturing zoning and land use pretexts to discriminate against vulnerable children fleeing violence and persecution in Central America.


Co-counsel in the legal action include Brancart & Brancart, Cooley LLP, and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.


  • November 2016: The Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice filed a brief in support of our position that the group homes provided by Southwest Key for unaccompanied children are “dwellings” covered by the Fair Housing Act.
  • January 2016: We are reviewing the City’s responses to our discovery requests, scheduling depositions, discussing potential discovery disputes, and responding to the City’s discovery requests.
  • November 2015: We served our first set of discovery requests on September 28, 2015 and agreed to extend the City’s time to respond to November 30, 2015.
  • September 2015: After the court held an early neutral evaluation and a case management conference on August 12, 2015, the case is now proceeding into discovery.
  • July 2015: The City answered our complaint on June 9, 2015, after which the court scheduled an early neutral evaluation on July 10, with discovery to follow.