Court Says Landlords Under No Legal Obligation to Inquire about Immigration Status

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 5, 2012

CONTACT: John Garcia, Director of Communications, 212-739-7513, 917-673-9095 or jgarcia@latinojustice.org.

According to a federal appeals court, and contrary to claims by one of the nation’s leading anti-immigrant groups, landlords do not violate federal immigration law if they rent to a tenant they know lacks lawful immigration status.

The February 24 decision by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia also states that a landlord is under no obligation to inquire about a prospective tenant’s immigration status. These two claims formed the core of a case, Delrio-Mocci v. Connelly Properties*, brought in 2008 by the Immigration Reform Law Institute in Washington, D.C., against a New Jersey landlord. The suit was an attempt to force landlords to cease renting to families who may be undocumented immigrants.

The decision was grounded on the Court’s finding that federal immigration law does not intend to deprive undocumented immigrants of housing as a means to force them to leave the country. The Court further reasoned that landlords could not possibly be viewed as having the wherewithal to verify someone’s immigration status, a complex task that can take years for lawyers and the courts to untangle. In fact, the Court noted that several federal programs explicitly permit undocumented immigrants to live in households that receive federal assistance.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF and its co-counsel the law firm of Duane Morris filed an amicus brief and argued before the appellate court on behalf of a local New Jersey community group The Latin American Coalition of Plainfield, which counted several members among the residents in the subject properties.

“With the poisonous politicizing and demonizing of immigrants, this decision is a potent reminder that our nation is based on the rule of law and on compassion for our neighbor,” explained Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “The belief that a landlord should take on the role of a federal immigration enforcement agent would create an explosion of witch hunts in which thousands of Latinos would be denied housing as they would be presumed guilty until proven innocent with respect to their immigration status. We cannot permit that to happen.”

“We are very pleased with the court’s decision, and proud to have played a part in such an important case for the immigrant community and for landlords,” said Duane Morris partner Marco A. Gonzalez, Jr.. “My colleague and co-counsel Rob Palumbos and I share Duane Morris’ commitment to pro bono service. We look forward to working with LatinoJustice PRLDEF to address pressing issues for Latinos in the future.”

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