In 2006, in move that came to be echoed around the country, the City of Hazleton, Pennsylvania enacted a series of anti-immigrant ordinances: the “Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance” and the “Tenant Registration Ordinance.” These ordinances would have imposed steep fines on landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants and denied business permits to owners who hired them. Hazleton has never substantiated its claims that a host of local problems were caused by undocumented immigrants.
Almost immediately, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and private counsel challenged the ordinances in federal court on behalf of Hazleton residents, landlords and business owners.
In July 2007, a federal district court ruled that the ordinances violated the Supremacy and Due Process clauses of the United States Constitution. U.S. District Judge James M. Munley decided in favor of the Latino plaintiffs and found that the ordinance usurped the federal government’s exclusive power to regulate immigration, deprived residents of their constitutional right to due process, and violated federal and state law. The City appealed.
In April 2008, MALDEF filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) appellate brief in support of Judge Munley’s decision. 25 national civil rights and Pennsylvania-based Latino and immigrant advocacy organizations joined MALDEF as amici supporting the plaintiffs-appellees. MALDEF urged the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to affirm the district court’s decision and offered an additional reason to do so, arguing that Hazleton’s ordinances violated the Equal Protection Clause. MALDEF also supported Judge Munley’s decision to allow some of the Lozano plaintiffs to proceed anonymously in the trial court. Oral argument took place on October 30, 2008 and a decision is expected in 2009.
National, Local Civil Rights Groups Join MALDEF in Court Filing Against Hazleton Ordinance
April 17, 2008
CHICAGO, IL — Today, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the nation’s leading Latino civil rights organization, filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) brief in an appeal of last year’s federal court decision that struck down Hazleton, Pennsylvania’s anti-immigrant ordinances. MALDEF was joined in their effort by 25 national civil rights and Pennsylvania-based Latino and immigrant advocacy organizations.
Hazleton first enacted a series of anti-immigrant ordinances in the summer of 2006. Latino plaintiffs represented by the ACLU, Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and private counsel immediately challenged those ordinances in court. In July 2007, a federal district court ruled that the ordinances violated the Supremacy and Due Process clauses of the United States Constitution. Lozano v. City of Hazleton, 496 F. Supp. 2d 477 (M.D. Pa. 2007) is now on appeal before the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
MALDEF and partner organizations (“amici”) filed their brief in support of the plaintiffs-appellees. “People of good will across diverse communities are united in one voice against the unconstitutional Hazleton ordinance. Our brief provides further constitutional support for the lower court’s decision to strike it down,” said MALDEF President and General Counsel John Trasviña.
The brief addresses the long history of racial and national origin-based immigration policy in the United States, culminating in recent state and local efforts targeting “illegal aliens.” The brief also argues that the district court correctly permitted several plaintiffs to proceed anonymously in light of the threats they would face when seeking to protect their rights. MALDEF has urged the circuit court to affirm the district court’s decision and has offered an additional reason to do so, arguing that Hazleton’s ordinances violate the Equal Protection Clause.
“Our brief demonstrates that the Hazleton ordinances, like other local and state anti-immigrant measures, follow in a long-line of discriminatory policies toward newly arrived immigrants,” stated Diana Swisher Andsager of Mayer Brown LLP.
Jennifer R. Clarke, Executive Director of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, added “the Law Center was founded during the Civil Rights era and is dedicated to ending discrimination in any form. Today, we join this effort to stop a less blatant, but equally harmful form of discrimination.”
MALDEF was assisted in this effort by the law firm of Mayer Brown, LLP. Joining the brief were the Anti-Defamation League, Asian American Institute, Asian American Justice Center, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Centro Legal, Inc., Comite de Apoyo a los Trabajadores Agricolas (CATA – The Farmworkers Support Committee), Friends of Farmworkers, Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania, Immigration Equality, Jewish Social Policy and Action Network, La Raza Centro Legal, Lambda Legal, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, League of United Latin American Citizens, Legal Momentum, National Association of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Council of La Raza, National Immigration Law Center, Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, Southern Center for Human Rights, Southern Poverty Law Center, and Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians.
Federal Judge Strikes Down Hazleton Anti-Immigrant Ordinance
MALDEF touts legal victory for all Americans
July 26, 2007
WASHINGTON, DC — Today a federal judge struck down the city of Hazleton’s anti-immigrant ordinance, ruling it unconstitutional. Judge James M. Munley decided in favor of the Latino plaintiffs and found that the ordinance usurped the federal government’s exclusive power to regulate immigration, deprived residents of their constitutional right to due process, and violated federal and state law.
“The Hazleton decision is not only a victory for the rule of law, but for all Americans who value equality and justice,” stated John Trasviña, MALDEF President and General Counsel.
The Illegal Immigration Relief Act would have imposed steep fines on landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants and denied business permits to owners who hired them. Judge Munley issued a temporary restraining order in October preventing the city from implementing the ordinance, followed by a trial in March.
In the opinion issued today, Judge Munley concluded that “[w]hatever frustrations officials of the City of Hazelton may feel about the current state of federal immigration enforcement, the nature of the political system in the United States prohibits the City from enacting ordinances that disrupt a carefully drawn federal statutory scheme. Even if federal law did not conflict with Hazelton’s measures, the City could not enact an ordinance that violates rights the Constitution guarantees to every person in the United States, whether legal resident or not. The genius of our Constitution is that it provides rights even to those who evoke the least sympathy from the general public. In that way, all in this nation can be confident of equal justice under its laws. Hazelton, in its zeal to control the presence of a group deemed undesirable, violated the rights of such people, as well as others within the community. Since the United States Constitution protects even the disfavored, the ordinances cannot be enforced.”
“We salute our colleagues at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union for this critical victory,” stated MALDEF Litigation Director Cynthia Valenzuela.
The Hazelton decision is consistent with court victories in Escondido, California and Valley Park, Missouri. Most recently, MALDEF won a preliminary injunction to block implementation of an anti-immigrant ordinance in Farmers Branch, Texas.
“Judge Munley’s decision stands as a stern warning to other communities who might be contemplating taking immigration reform into their own hands,” added Eric Gutierrez, MALDEF Legislative Staff Attorney.