Legislators who advocate restrictions on where those on sex offender registries can live often admit that their real purpose is to get registrants out of town altogether. One city has come closer than any other to making permanent exile a reality: Lewisville, Texas.
Most cities and towns with residence bans prohibit registrants from being near “places where children gather”: parks, schools, and daycares. But in 2008, Lewisville passed a law that defined those places to include just about everything: parks, playgrounds, schools, swimming pools, recreational facilities, day cares, and video arcades. The town’s 1500-foot ban makes 99.75 percent of the city’s houses off limits to registrants and their families.
So imagine the dilemma facing Lewisville’s Aurelio Duarte, his wife Wynjean, and their two teen daughters. In 2006, Aurelio Duarte was convicted of online solicitation of a minor and served 3 years in prison. When he got out in June 2010, he returned to Lewisville to rejoin his family.
But the city’s residency ban meant that the family had to move when Aurelio came home. So the four of them got a one-room, 275-square-foot motel room on an interstate service road, one of the few places that wasn’t in a banned zone. (A swimming pool has since been built nearby, so it’s since become off limits.) They thought their stay would be temporary.
The Duartes wanted to stay in Lewisville–the daughters had grown up in the city’s public school system, and Wynjean worked between 60 and 70 hours a week at two jobs near the city.
So over the course of 18 months, they looked for a house to buy or an apartment to rent within the .25 percent of the city open to them. Miraculously, nine times they found houses for sale that they thought might not be in a no-go zone. But each time, when they contacted police to find out whether they had permission to make an offer, the police either turned them down or took so long to reply that the houses were sold to someone else in the meantime.
So they stayed in their tiny motel room. Brandi Duarte and her sister Savona shared a bed a few feet from their parents. “I hate it. It’s really embarrassing,” Brandi told a local news outlet in 2012. “I have to keep it a secret that I live here.”
Eventually, the family moved to a city 10 miles away, forcing Savona Duarte to change school’s and Wynjean to commute further to her jobs.
If there were evidence that zones banning America’s untouchables prevent sex crimes, you’d still have to explain why they justify the assault on the right to housing enshrined in the 1948 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, to which the U.S. is signatory. That there’s a consensus among researchers that residence laws do nothing to make anyone safer makes them monstrous, an assault on basic standards of decency and a standing commentary on whether the U.S. is ready to fully join the community of civilized nations.