Landlord Of Migrant Worker Housing Sues Bureau Of Indian Affairs

The landlord of a mobile home park that houses thousands of migrant workers in the California desert has sued the federal government over its promise to shut the encampment down for health and safety violations.

The lawsuit names the Bureau of Indian Affairs and James Fletcher, the agency's Southern California superintendent, as defendants.

It was filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Riverside.

Fletcher and the BIA have been trying to get the Desert Mobile Home Park shut down for several months because of rampant health and safety problems, including alleged clean-water violations, open sewage, overcrowding and illegal dumping.

The park, which houses up to 4,000 workers during peak harvest season, sits on the Torres Martinez Indian Reservation in the fertile Coachella Valley about 120 miles southeast of Los Angeles - and is therefore immune to state and local health and safety codes.

The lawsuit, filed by park owner and tribal member Harvey Duro, alleges that Fletcher and the BIA have libeled and defamed Duro by
making public statements that exaggerate the problems at the mobile
home park.

It also alleges that Fletcher wants to close the park because of "animus and racial hatred of Native Americans and Hispanics who occupy the mobile home park."

"Mr. Duro is challenging the U.S. government for racial bias," said Alan Singer, Duro's spokesman.

"The government and Mr. Fletcher are discriminating against him because he's not white."

Fletcher was out of the office until Monday and did not immediately return a message left with his secretary.

He has previously said, however, that Duro did not take out a lease with
the BIA as required and also failed to implement health and safety
improvements that were ordered several years ago by a federal judge
as part of a consent decree.

Last month, Fletcher said the BIA would ask a federal judge as early as this month to order a phased closure of the park.

Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said Thursday that his agency and the BIA will file an order in federal court by the middle of this month to begin that process.

"We are preparing to move against Mr. Duro, with an eye to, in fact, shutting the place down unless improvements are immediately made at the park," Mrozek said.

The conflict between Duro and the federal government began in the late 1990s, when local officials began cracking down on illegal trailer parks hidden away on Riverside County land.

Duro, a member of the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, opened 40 acres of his land to the migrant workers who were being displaced.

With trailers in tow, the workers flocked to the new mobile home park.

Conditions worsened until 2004.

Federal officials ordered numerous repairs after the facility was cited by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Bureau of Indian Affairs for alleged clean-water violations, open sewage, illegal dumping and overcrowding.

The latest federal inspection came in July, after a fire destroyed eight trailers. Fletcher said few improvements were found.

Singer said the Bureau of Indian Affairs has not shared the latest inspection report with Duro and accused the federal agency of trying to take over Indian lands in a "new-millenium land grab."

He also said Duro has spent tens of thousands of dollars repairing the water system and eliminating hazardous conditions.

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