Federal Appeals Court Issues Forceful Ruling Against Local Pennsylvania Anti-Immigrant Ordinance

July 26, 2013 12:00 am

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Three Different Federal Circuit Courts Have Issued Major Decisions This Week Condemning Discriminatory State and Local Immigration Laws

July 26, 2013

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NEW YORK – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit today rejected Hazleton, Pa., anti-immigrant housing and employment ordinances, confirming that the laws, which have been continuously blocked under earlier federal court rulings, are unconstitutional and should never go into effect. This is the third decision this week in which a federal appeals court has ruled against a city or state anti-immigration law. Decisions rejecting laws in Texas and South Carolina were issued Monday and Tuesday by the Fifth and Fourth Circuit Courts of Appeals, respectively.

The ordinances would have barred individuals the city defined as “illegal aliens” from rental housing and would have punished Hazleton residents and businesses for engaging in a broad range of commercial interactions with individuals who could not prove they had federal work authorization.

“This week’s decisions are a powerful reminder that our Constitution protects immigrants from harassment and scapegoating by state and local governments,” said Omar Jadwat, supervising attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “It is a shame that so much of the city government’s time and resources have been wasted on these fundamentally flawed laws, and we hope that the city will finally accept the courts’ judgment and move on.” Jadwat further noted that “the weight of judicial opinion condemning these state and local laws is truly overwhelming.”

Following a two-week trial, the federal trial court in Scranton permanently struck down the ordinances in 2007. The city appealed that decision, and lost again in the federal appeals court in 2010. The case went back to the appeals court in August 2012 for review in light of the Supreme Court’s rulings on two Arizona immigration laws in 2011 and 2012. The civil rights groups successfully argued that those cases reaffirmed the judgment that Hazleton’s ordinances are unconstitutional.

The ACLU, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Community Justice Project and the law firm Cozen O’Connor have been challenging the ordinances on behalf of Hazleton residents, landlords and business owners since the first ordinance was enacted in August 2006.

“Hazleton was the first locality or state to try to drive Latinos out, and the courts have repeatedly slapped down its effort,” said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “All of the courts have said the same thing: immigration is the purview of the federal government. It’s time for Hazelton – and other municipalities and states – to stop trying to harass Latino immigrants out of existence. Let’s leave decisions about global markets and transnational labor forces to the federal government.”

“This has always been a thinly veiled effort by a city to change immigration laws and fortunately the court once again saw through it,” said Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Hazleton’s ordinances have been opposed by many civil rights, religious, labor and business organizations, as well as state and local governments. These groups have filed friend-of-the-court briefs arguing that the ordinances violate federal authority to regulate immigration and lead to inconsistent and unfair punishment for employers and landlords.

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