On Eve of Federal Court Hearing, City of Hazleton Agrees to Withdraw Harsh Anti-Immigrant Law
August 30, 2006
Contact: Foster Maer, Associate Counsel, (212) 739-7507 or 917-923-9963
HAZLETON, PA – Just as Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund as well as other civil rights groups were about to ask Federal District Court Judge James M. Munley in Scranton, Pennsylvania to stop the City of Hazleton from implementing it harsh anti-immigrant ordinance, the City agreed today to withdraw it. In exchange, the residents, represented by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, American Civil Liberties Union, the Community Justice Project, the law firm of Cozen O’Connor and local attorneys George Barron, David Vaida, and Barry Dyller, agreed to not seek an injunction against Hazleton.
“As we have said from the beginning, the ordinance was flawed in its premise and in its language. Its implementation would also be flawed. Hazleton has no business in regulating immigration” said Cesar Perales, President and General Counsel of PRLDEF. “The ordinance has only succeeded in creating a divisive atmosphere in the community.”
The stipulation and order states “Defendant, including its officers and agents, shall not act to enforce Ordinance 2006-10 (as well as Ordinance 2006-16 which also relates to immigration matters), for at least twenty (20) days after the date Defendant either (a) enacts a new immigration-related ordinance (“New Ordinance”) or (b) notifies Plaintiffs’ counsel in writing that the City intends to enforce any of Ordinance(s) 2006-10 and/or 2006-16.”
Cesar Perales added that PRLDEF is prepared to challenge any similar law passed by Hazleton and is challenging these types of ordinances in various parts of the country “This agreement should signal to those other copycat localities that the notorious Hazleton ordinance is indefensible and had better be revoked.”
The ordinance, approved on July 13, was scheduled to take effect on September 11. The ordinance defines certain persons as “illegal aliens,” including both undocumented immigrants and individuals whose residency status is lawful under federal law. Under the ordinance, property owners could be fined $1,000 a day for renting to individuals classified as illegal aliens, and business owners could be fined or have their licenses suspended for hiring illegal aliens either knowingly or unknowingly. In addition, businesses would be barred from selling merchandise to illegal aliens, including basic necessities such as food and shelter.
The ordinance would also turn Hazleton into an “English-only” community in which city documents and other written communications would not be available in any language but English unless required otherwise by federal or state law. Also, documents from residents to city officials would have to be written in English.
The groups filed a lawsuit against the city on August 15, on behalf of several individual and organizational clients. The groups said in legal papers that the ordinance violates the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause because it seeks to override federal law. The ordinance also violates business and property owners’ due process rights under the constitution because it is nearly impossible for them ensure compliance. In addition, the ordinance’s “English only” provision violates city residents’ First Amendment rights to free speech.