On December 5, 2006, the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners unanimously enacted Georgia’s first ordinance prohibiting the rental of dwelling units to unauthorized immigrants in its unincorporated territory. The Commission’s proffered reason for the ordinance was to address the County’s problems with overcrowding, poor housing conditions, and crime; yet it provided no empirical evidence that illegal immigration contributed to these blights.
On January 4, 2007, MALDEF filed a complaint alleging that the ordinance violated the United States Constitution’s Supremacy, Due Process, Equal Protection, Self-Incrimination, Free Speech and Contract Clauses. MALDEF also alleged that it violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA), and several state constitutional provisions and statutes.
In light of MALDEF’s victory in Garrett v. City of Escondido, CA, MALDEF convinced the County Attorney to agree to a Consent Order that granted Plaintiffs’ request for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) and preliminary injunction pending the final resolution of similar ordinances that were being litigated in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and in Valley Park, Missouri. On January 4, 2007, U.S. District Judge Timothy Hatten signed the Consent Order granting Plaintiffs’ request for a TRO and preliminary injunction, which prevents the County from enforcing the ordinance until the challenges in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and in Valley Park, Missouri are completely resolved.
In late August, 2007, MALDEF and its co-counsel agreed to the administrative closure of the case pending final decisions and appeals were exhausted in the Valley Park, Missouri, and Hazelton, Pennsylvania cases. MALDEF negotiated to incorporate specific language stating that the court’s temporary restraining order remains effective throughout the closure, and the Court incorporated such language in its order.
MALDEF Studies Unconstitutional Aspects of New Cherokee County Anti-Immigrant Ordinance
Warns against premature implementation of the new ordinance or increased immigration checks
CANTON, GA — In response to action taken last night by the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners to penalize landlords who fail to verify the immigration status of new tenants and to make English the county’s “official” language, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) conferred with local leaders to prepare for the next phase of the debate. MALDEF has recently filed lawsuits against the cities of Valley Park, Missouri and Escondido, California that have passed similarly discriminatory and unconstitutional ordinances.
MALDEF warned against premature implementation of the new ordinance. “The Cherokee County ordinance does not go into effect until 2007. Passage of the ordinance gives county officials or landlords no additional authority to ask any individual about their immigration status or to deny housing or to threaten eviction because of immigration status. Any such incidents should be reported to the Atlanta MALDEF office,” stated Isaiah Delemar, Acting Southeast Regional Counsel.
The law will impose a great burden on landlords and tenants in Cherokee County and lead to discrimination against Latino prospective tenants. Landlords are likely to want to avoid any involvement with this process and avoid renting to anyone who might, because of their appearance or accent, be thought to be an immigrant.
“Every state or federal court that has examined ordinances similar to what Cherokee County passed has kept them from going into effect. We expect the Cherokee County ordinance to meet the same fate. Cherokee County cannot have its own immigration policy any more than it can have its own military or foreign policy. It is a job for the federal government,” added MALDEF President and General Counsel John Trasviña.
The County also passed a resolution to join the SAVE federal program targeting illegal immigrants.
Local Groups File Challenge to Cherokee Anti-Immigrant Ordinance
Court enjoins Cherokee County enforcement of anti-immigrant ordinance
January 05, 2007
ATLANTA, GA — Today, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Georgia (ACLU/GA), ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, and attorneys from the law firms of Troutman Sanders LLP and Hernan, Taylor and Lee, LLC held a news conference to announce that they have secured a court order preventing Cherokee County from enforcing a new ordinance that would have penalized landlords who fail to verify the immigration status of new tenants.
Landlords and tenants represented by the groups filed a complaint and an application for a restraining order in U.S. District Court court yesterday, January 4, 2007. Cherokee County consented to the entry of the order by Judge Timothy Batten. The order provides that the County will not enforce the ordinance while the lawsuit is pending.
“This ordinance imposes a great burden on landlords and tenants in Cherokee County and ultimately leads to discrimination against Latino prospective tenants,” stated Southeast Acting Regional Counsel of MALDEF, Isaiah Delamar. “We have filed this lawsuit on behalf of landlords who are unfairly burdened by the requirements of this ordinance and our community that has been grossly divided.”
“We applaud Cherokee County’s wise choice to refrain from enforcement at this time. We are confident that ongoing challenges to similar laws will continue to be successful and that Cherokee County will ultimately withdraw its ordinance in light of those results,” said Omar Jadwat, a staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
“With all due respect, as explained in our lawsuit, immigration matters are a national issue that our constitution and laws say should be dealt with by Congress, hopefully through immigration reform. We look forward to working with our co-counsel and with Cherokee County, to resolve this matter,” stated Alan E. Lubel, Partner at Troutman Sanders.
“This is a positive step for all concerned. I am gratified that the leadership in Cherokee County agreed to slow down and consider the long term impact this ordinance could have on everyone in the county,” Debbie Seagraves, Executive Director ACLU of Georgia.
“Hernan Taylor & Lee is delighted to see the enforcement of Cherokee County’s ordinance halted,” says Jamie Hernan, Managing Partner of Hernan Taylor & Lee, “and hopes that the focus will turn from local enactment of unconstitutional laws, and actions that misrepresent the true spirit and nature of Americans, towards a comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level that recognizes and honors the inherent human dignity of all people.”
Consent Order Granting Plaintiff’s Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction and for Stay