A youth-services agency that has been blocked from housing 60 undocumented immigrant children in Philadelphia has sued the city, saying it is discriminating against Latino youths by not letting them move in.
Arizona-based VisionQuest filed suit in federal court in Washington, seeking an injunction that would allow the facility to open in the Logan neighborhood. The for-profit agency also wants damages in an amount to be determined at trial.
The agency filed a second suit in Common Pleas Court appealing the city’s zoning decision and seeking an injunction. The filings were first reported by WHYY.
The Philadelphia Zoning Board of Adjustment earlier upheld a Department of Licenses and Inspections finding that a new zoning permit would be required for VisionQuest’s intended use. The agency, which operates in six states, plans to house a rotating population of Spanish-speaking boys ages 12 to 17 at its property at 5201 Old York Rd. Most of the youths arrived alone at the southern border, fleeing gang violence and poverty in Central America.
“The city is confident that the violation issued against VisionQuest was appropriate, and applauds the zoning board for independently upholding the violation,” the Kenney administration said in a statement Monday. “The property owner and VisionQuest have exercised their right to appeal that decision to the Court of Common Pleas. … This is the appropriate forum for them to make their case.”
The federal lawsuit names both the city and the Zoning Board of Adjustment as defendants. It says the two have prevented the children from moving into “a safe, habitable, and professionally staffed facility” because “most of these child refugees are from Central American and are Hispanic.”
VisionQuest says that the zoning-board decision was arbitrary and irrational, and that as a result, “60 beds at the facility remain empty,” and health-care providers, educators, and social workers trained to help unite the children with relatives or guardians remain idle.
The federal suit was filed last week; the local suit was filed on April 9.