Published — July 22, 2014 Updated — January 26, 2018 at 12:30 pm ET

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

League City’s ordinance cites concerns of diseases, Islamic terrorism


Demonstrators outside the Mexican Consulate Friday in Houston in July of 2014 in response to tens of thousands of migrant children streaming into South Texas. (David J. Phillip/AP)

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.

Language in the housing ban makes the claim that illegal immigrants carry diseases “endemic” to their countries of origin — an allegation that international health experts say is factually unfounded, as the Texas Observer reported.

The United Nations Children’s Fund reports that 93 percent of children in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador are vaccinated against measles, compared to 92 percent of American kids.

Federal officials have not approached League City about placing children there at federal cost, as they have in other communities with suitable shelters.

But supporters of the ordinance said they wanted to take a stand, and protect taxpayers from having to shoulder costs for schooling or other services for children. The ordinance also asserts a need for a ban because “radical Islamist terror groups continue to exploit the situation to infiltrate the United States” — an allegation that has also not been proved or linked to the influx of Central Americans.

“Be it resolved,” the ordinance says, that all agencies in League City are “instructed to refuse requests or directives by federal agencies to permit or establish any facility for the purposes of processing, housing, or detaining any illegal aliens, designated as ‘refugees,’ or otherwise.”

Heidi Theiss, the council member who wrote the ordinance, talked to KPRC television in Texas about why she proposed the housing ban. “We are a very safe city, here in League City,” she said, “and it’s that way because we’re proactive.”

Some minors taken into custody at the border say they fear gang violence and reprisals and other dangers in Central America, an impoverished region struggling with organized crime and drug cartels, as the Center for Public Integrity has reported.

Debate is on over whether to alter existing federal legislation so that Border Patrol agents can quickly deport more of the minors rather than put them in shelters where social workers can assess them and they can get immigration court dates.

Advocates for children argue that as children, the minors need a safe place to reveal their circumstances and talk about whether they might be eligible to seek asylum or another type of legal status, or agree to be returned to their home countries in an orderly fashion.

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