Local authorities in Escondido, Calif., passed a controversial measure on Wednesday to prohibit landlords from renting to illegal immigrants, a law which opponents say is racist.
The city is the latest of several from California to Pennsylvania which have passed laws in recent months to deny access to housing or jobs to illegal immigrants in their communities.
Lawmakers in Escondido, which lies about 50 miles north of the Mexican border near San Diego, passed the measure by a 3-2 vote following a heated debate that was interrupted by shouts, chants and catcalls.
Police officers removed two men from the council chamber after an argument erupted, while outside city hall dozens of police and sheriff's department officers separated boisterous supporters and opponents of the law. There were no arrests.
The law is set to come into effect in 30 days in the community of 140,000 residents, where more than a third of the population is Hispanic.
"It's a historic day for Escondido. We are very proud to be leading our city and our country in defending the nation," said councilman Sam Abed to cheers from supporters in the council chamber moments before the vote.
‘Neighbor against neighbor’
Opponents of the measure told the packed meeting that it would divide residents along racial lines in the city, which is set in a corridor of prosperous commuter towns close to San Diego.
"This ordinance is going to have neighbor against neighbor ... that's not what this country is about, and that's not what this community is about," said Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler, who voted against the measure.
The ordinance requires landlords to hand over documentation on their tenants' immigration status to city authorities and evict illegal immigrant tenants or face penalties including suspension of their business licenses and fines.
Escondido joins other cities
Voting for the measure, the California city joined others including Hazleton, Pa., and Riverside, N.J., which passed bylaws to curb illegal immigration in recent months.
The moves pitched the local communities into a hotly contested national debate about what to do with an estimated 10 million to 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.
Civil libertarians and pro-immigrant groups have contested the local laws, which they argue are discriminatory and usurp the federal government's jurisdiction on matters of immigration enforcement.
"Immigration is an issue for the federal government to address, not for local authorities," said Donna Lieberman, the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
"The rash of ordinances are not only very harmful, but are also beyond the city governments' authority," she added.
Lieberman said the ACLU would be monitoring developments in Escondido, and did not rule out bringing a lawsuit.