During the summer of 2006, Hazleton, a city in Pennsylvania, announced a plan to rid the city of undocumented immigrants by enacting an ordinance that required business owners and landlords not to hire or rent homes to them, at risk of daily fines. LatinoJustice PRLDEF and their co-counsel obtained a temporary restraining order blocking these anti-immigrant ordinances from being enforced and after a lengthy trial in the Spring 2007, the federal court issued a decision striking down the ordinances.

On August 15, 2006, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, together with co-counsels Cozen O’Connor, ACLU-PA, ACLU-Immigrant Rights Project, Community Justice Project in Harrisburg; David Vaida, Esq. and other local private counsel, filed a ground-breaking complaint in the U.S. Federal District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania challenging the Illegal Immigrant Relief Act (Haz-1) passed by the City of Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

The ordinance prohibited landlords, business owners and other entities from renting or providing goods or services to “illegal aliens” or they would be at risk of a loss of licenses and permits and $1,000 per day penalties.

The ordinance also imposed an “English only” policy for all city government services.

The legal challenge to Haz-1 was based on U.S. Constitution Supremacy clause; preemption, due process, Sec. 1981, Fair Housing Act and state laws.

In response to the initial lawsuit, the city agreed not to enforce the Haz-1 ordinance which was repealed, but subsequently passed an amended anti-immigrant ordinance (Haz-2) to circumvent the legal challenge.

LatinoJustice PRLDEF and co-counsel then filed an amended complaint and returned to court, successfully obtaining a temporary restraining order blocking the anti-immigrant ordinances from being enforced while the legal challenge was proceeding. In addition, we obtained a significant court ruling that said the plaintiffs did not have to disclose their identities or immigration status.

The trial on the permanent injunction was held before the Honorable Federal District Court Judge Judge James M. Munley in Scranton. It concluded in March 2007.

During the trial, LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s lawsuit repeatedly made the national news. The Ku Klux Klan contacted Hazelton’s mayor about how it could help.

After post-trial submissions, Judge Munley issued a landmark 206-page decision on July 26, 2007 striking down the ordinances.

The court found that the “Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance unlawfully attempted to regulate the United States’ immigration policies, violated procedural due protections under the U.S. Constitution to persons charged or threatened with penalties and loss of licenses, and based on faulty and unproven assumptions about the effects of immigrants living in Hazleton.

In his ground- breaking decision, Judge Munley held: “We cannot say clearly enough that persons who enter this country without legal authorization are not stripped immediately of all their rights because of this single illegal act… 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.” Plaintiffs subsequently moved for attorneys fees, and the city has appealed the decision.

Current Status: The city of Hazleton appealed to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Several amicus briefs were filed in support of both sides. Oral argument was held before the 3rd Circuit (Theodore A. McKee, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge (PJ), Richard L. Nygaard, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge (Senior) & the Honorable Eugene E. Siler, Jr., Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, sitting by designation) on October 30, 2008.

We are currently awaiting decision.

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