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"Victory for Farmworkers in California Mobile Home Park,"

by Arturo Rodriguez & Ilene J. Jacobs May/June 2009 issue of Poverty & Race

In a remarkable decision issued yesterday, Federal Judge Stephen G. Larson ended six years of litigation brought by the United States Government to close Duroville, a mobile home park in California with 270 mobile homes which serve as low-cost housing for over 2,000 full-time residents, 90-95% of them farmworkers. At peak harvest seasons, the park’s population would double as migrant workers came to the Coachella Valley and stayed with friends and families. One resident testified that the park was home to 1,500 members of the Purepecha, an indigenous people from the Mexican State of Michoacan, and that they were a community, self-governing and largely independent. Evidence at trial established that the park was home to over 450 school-age children who attended state-of-the-art schools located within a couple of miles from the park. The park manager estimated that there were an additional 600 children at the park too young to attend school.

Here is the excerpt from Judge Larson’s opinion:
“The Park, or Duroville or Los Duros, as it is better known by its residents, is not a business, it is a village; thousands of our fellow human beings call the Park home. It is not nearly as safe or as healthy as we would want it to be; it is, nonetheless, home for a community of people who are poor, undereducated, disenfranchised, and, in many respects, exploited. The Court must also add that, despite these disadvantages, these very same people, based on the evidence at trial, are an honest, hard-working, proud, colorful, and family-oriented community of people committed to educating their children and raising them to be productive and successful members of our society. The evidence at trial indicates that some are undocumented, some are resident aliens, and some are United States citizens; this complicated combination of immigration statuses places many of the residents of the Park in the crossroads of our Nation’s incongruous immigration and agricultural policies that, on the one hand, portend that undocumented workers lack legal status while at the same time predicating the economic efficiency of an agricultural industry on their hard work; it appears to this Court that we have, once again, established a rather ‘peculiar institution’ to service our agrarian needs.

“In any event, the evidence at trial clearly established that to accede to the government’s—and now Mr. Duro’s—request to promptly close the Park, without identifying where the vast majority of its residents would then live, would create a major humanitarian crisis. For the Court to close the Park under current conditions would create one of the largest forced human migrations in the history of this State. Unlike another forced migration in this State’s history—the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II—there is not even a Manzanar for these residents to go. The Court, since the early hearings in this case, has pressed the government to identify and present relocation proposals for the residents of the Park. Although the Court recognizes and applauds the efforts of various government actors, including the United States Attorney himself, to explore potential alternatives, and although the County of Riverside, under the leadership of Supervisor Roy Wilson and his colleagues, and with the support of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, have together made significant strides in developing and funding potential alternatives, the evidence at trial clearly establishes that any such alternatives are many months, and perhaps several years, away. Moreover, any of the proposed alternatives are further complicated by the immigration issue referenced above. As unsafe and unhealthy as the Park may be—circumstances the Court has observed first-hand through its visits to the park—it nonetheless offers a shelter in place for a people who otherwise have nowhere to go. Until and unless alternative housing is available—alternative housing that is safe, healthy, affordable and truly available to the residents—this Court will not close Duroville.”

Judge Larson’s full ruling is available at PRRAC’s Chester Hartman was an expert witness for the families at trial, testifying to the dire consequences of displacing the residents into Riverside County’s upscale housing market.

Arturo Rodriguez is an attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance.
Ilene J. Jacobs is an attorney with California Rural Legal Assistance.

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