A federal judge Tuesday refused to delay the removal of a migrant encampment near an abandoned landfill in Encinitas, setting the stage for authorities to uproot the impoverished immigrants during the coming week.
U. S. District Judge John S. Rhoades said he could find no valid legal reason to block the effort to disperse the migrant camp, which has been the center of controversy during the past month.
Although the judge expressed sympathy for the immigrants and suggested that the federal government should consider greater allowances for housing the newcomers, he noted that the more than 40 migrants hunkered down on the site are violating laws against squatting on private property.
“The law says, ‘Thou shalt not trespass,’ ” Rhoades said. “They’re trespassing. It’s as simple as that.”
‘A Desperate Situation’
Rhoades said that “what’s going on in our county is very unfortunate” and that he shares “the greatest compassion” for men and women fleeing “a desperate situation” in lands south of the border.
But the judge said the encampment could pose a health risk for which the county would be responsible and noted that the Constitution does not contain provisions giving residents a fundamental right to housing.
Patrick Greenwell, an Encinitas attorney who sought the delay on behalf of the North County Chaplaincy, a private agency that assists the migrants, said he was disappointed by the ruling and suggested that the plan to uproot the encampment is being spurred by racism.
Greenwell said the effort amounts to selective enforcement, arguing that “these people are being singled out because of their national origin.”
‘Will Start All Over Again’
“Cities just keep pushing the problem away,” Greenwell said after the hearing. “Now the city of Encinitas wants to harass these people just enough in hopes they will move on. . . . They’re only going to go to another canyon, and the problem will start all over again.”
Many of the migrants moved to the encampment, which sits in a rugged canyon ringed by condominiums, from a similar complex of squalid hooches and makeshift dwellings across from La Costa. The original encampment, known as Valle Verde, had existed in relative peace for half-a-dozen years before it was shut in late January because of health concerns.
Angry residents flooded Encinitas City Hall with complaints about the new camp, prompting several acrimonious hearings before the council that resulted in an order to press forward with efforts to cite the immigrants for trespassing on private property.
The ruling Tuesday by Rhoades swings open the door for a sweep of the encampment by the U. S. Border Patrol, the Sheriff’s Department, Encinitas code enforcement and the county Department of Health Services.
Although the sweep had been planned for Tuesday, it was put on hold because of the pending legal proceedings before Rhoades and concerns about getting written permission from a final landowner, said Encinitas Fire Chief Robert LaMarsh, who is coordinating the effort.
LaMarsh said all the snags are expected to be ironed out soon. But he was reluctant to reveal when the raid would take place, suggesting that authorities are concerned that “a circus atmosphere” could develop, with both friends and foes of the migrants flocking to the site.
LaMarsh said he heard that some migrant advocacy groups might undertake a campaign to spotlight the situation by trespassing on the property and exposing themselves to arrest, a situation city officials are eager to avoid.
Many of the migrants, meanwhile, have already left the canyon. The Rev. Rafael Martinez, director of the North County Chaplaincy, said several of the families have sought housing elsewhere, and only about a dozen men remain at the site.
Despite the defeat in court, several advocacy groups held a candlelight vigil in front of Encinitas City Hall on Tuesday night to protest the council’s efforts to uproot the camp. Participants in the vigil included the North County Coalition for Human Resources, the Mexican Solidarity Coalition and MEChA, or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, a Latino students group.