US Supreme Court Let's Stand Lower Circuit Rulings Prohibiting Anti-Immigrant Ordinances in Hazleton, PA and Farmers Branch, TX


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The U.S. Supreme Court today declined to hear two prominent cases involving anti-immigrant local ordinances in Hazleton, Pennsylvania and Farmers Branch, Texas that would have denied access to housing and jobs to undocumented immigrants. The decision will let stand lower court rulings in the 3rd and 5th Circuits respectively that prohibited the ordinances from ever taking effect. Hazleton was the first locality or state to pass anti-immigrant legislation in the country in recent decades when it approved ordinances prohibiting the renting to or hiring of persons unable to document their immigration status in 2006.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF sent the first legal team to Hazleton to meet with the Latino community there, which was the clear target of the new ordinances. That meeting ultimately led to the litigation challenging the ordinance. Our clients won a stunning victory at a three week trial the following year, but that decision has been tied up in a lengthy set of appeals since then.

Today, with the Supreme Court's decision not to accept the second appeal to the court filed in the intervening years, the Latino community of Hazleton can now finally breathe a sigh of relief as their victory is now final and irreversible. Justice has been served.

“Hazleton’s Latino community, the target of Hazleton’s anti-immigrant ordinances, can finally breathe a sigh of relief after 7 years,” said Foster Maer, LatinoJustice PRLDEF Senior Attorney and Co-Counsel on the case. “The Town can no longer target them for harassment and expulsion. Though Latinos across the country can also feel heartened that their towns can no longer take similar acts against them, they now must remain on guard as anti-immigrant forces will come up with new ways to try to drive them out. Omar Jadwat, Supervising Attorney, ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project, commented on the high court's decisions in both cases:

“The Hazleton and Farmers Branch anti-immigrant ordinances have repeatedly been found unconstitutional by federal trial and appeals courts. Today, the ordinances’ supporters failed in their final, last ditch attempt to resurrect these laws, which have been blocked for years without ever going into effect. Now that these appeals are over, we look forward to Farmers Branch and Hazleton joining cities across the nation that are looking at ways to make their cities welcoming places for immigrants, rather writing hostility and discrimination into municipal law."

Comment from Witold Walczak, Legal Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania, and co-counsel in the Hazleton case:“It's time Hazleton put this ugly history in the rear view mirror and started to focus on becoming a welcoming and productive city. “

Comment from Thomas Willkinson, Jr., Cozen O’Connor, co-counsel in the Hazleton case: “The district court and Third Circuit properly concluded that Hazleton's efforts to regulate immigration at the local level unduly interfered with a fundamental function of the federal government. The regulations also had the unfortunate byproduct of splintering the community and making lawful immigrants feel unwelcome.”

Background on the Hazleton case The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the Community Justice Project and the law firm Cozen O'Connor have been challenging anti-immigrant housing and employment ordinances on behalf of Hazleton residents, landlords and business owners since the first ordinance was enacted in August 2006. None of the ordinances has ever gone into effect.

The Hazleton ordinances would have barred individuals the city defined as "illegal aliens" from rental housing and would have punished Hazleton residents and businesses for engaging in a broad range of commercial interactions with individuals who could not prove they had federal work authorization. Following a two-week trial, the federal trial court in Scranton, PA permanently struck down the ordinances in 2007. The city appealed that decision, and lost again in the federal appeals court in 2010. The case went back to the appeals court in August 2012 for review in light of the Supreme Court's rulings on two Arizona immigration laws in 2011 and 2012.

The civil rights groups successfully argued that those cases reaffirmed the judgment that Hazleton's ordinances are unconstitutional.

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