Federal Court Of Appeals Hears Arguments On Hazleton Anti-Immigrant Law

October 30, 2008 12:00 am

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ACLU Argues Court Should Uphold Ruling That Ordinance Is Unconstitutional

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PHILADELPHIA – The American Civil Liberties Union argued in an appellate court today that it should uphold the landmark July 2007 ruling by a federal court in Pennsylvania that declared the city of Hazleton’s anti-immigrant law unconstitutional. Hazleton’s law would punish landlords and employers who are accused of renting to or hiring anyone the city classifies as an “illegal alien.”

The case, Lozano v. Hazleton, has been closely watched across the country and is the only lawsuit challenging a state or local anti-immigrant law to have been decided after a full trial.

“After hearing two weeks of testimony from witnesses and considering hundreds of documents, the district court correctly condemned Hazleton’s anti-immigrant law in the strongest terms,” said Omar Jadwat, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project staff attorney. “This attempt by local politicians to transform Hazleton into an enclave of hostility to immigrants is not only wrong-headed but also plainly unconstitutional.”

Hazleton adopted its first anti-immigrant ordinance in August 2006, and a lawsuit challenging the law was immediately filed on behalf of Hazleton residents, landlords and business owners by a civil rights coalition including the ACLU, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (now LatinoJustice PRLDEF), the Community Justice Project and the law firm of Cozen O’Connor.

During the trial, Hazleton officials claimed that undocumented immigrants were responsible for bankrupting the city, driving up healthcare costs and drastically increasing local crime. But evidence at trial showed that over a six-year period, the large influx of Latino immigrants actually helped to transform a huge city budget deficit into a surplus, that the private hospital system made a $4 million profit and the crime rate actually fell. Out of over 8,500 crimes committed, only 21 were linked to undocumented immigrants; out of 428 violent crimes, only three.

“It’s time for Hazleton and other cities to stop scapegoating immigrants for all of their problems,” said Vic Walczak, ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director. “Allowing every city and town to enact its own immigration laws would balkanize the country into immigrant-friendly and immigrant-hostile areas.”

On behalf of the coalition, both Walczak and Jadwat argued today in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit that the city law is unconstitutional.

Friend-of-the-court briefs opposing the Hazleton law have been filed by numerous civil rights, religious, labor and business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the labor union coalition Change to Win, the American Jewish Committee, Capuchin Franciscan Friars, Lutheran Children and Family Services, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Legal Momentum, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Anti-Defamation League and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

The ACLU is closely monitoring other cities and towns that are considering or have enacted similar ordinances to Hazleton’s and has initiated several related legal challenges.

Attorneys on the case include Jadwat, Lucas Guttentag and Jennifer Chang Newell of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project; Walczak and Mary Catherine Roper from the ACLU of Pennsylvania; Shamaine Daniels of the Community Justice Project; Foster Maer and Ghita Schwarz of LatinoJustice PRLDEF; and Thomas G. Wilkinson and Ilan Rosenberg of Cozen O’Connor.

More information on the case, Lozano v. Hazleton, is online at: www.aclu.org/hazleton

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