Immigrant Advocates Score Major Legal Wins

While a comprehensive immigration reform waned in the U.S. Congress, significant developments on the immigration front occurred in the courts in July. In three back-to-back decisions, federal courts struck down state or local laws that attempted to regulate housing, employment and other matters based on a person’s immigration status.

On Friday, July 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected housing and employment ordinances passed in the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, which had been the subject of legal battles pitting immigrant activists against supporters of the laws since 2006.

“Hazleton was the first locality or state to try to move Latinos out, and the courts have repeatedly slapped down its effort,” said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF. “All of the courts have said the same thing: immigration is the purview of the federal government. It’s time for Hazleton to stop trying to harass Latino immigrants out of existence. Let’s leave decisions about global markets and transnational labor forces to the federal government.”

Three days prior to the Hazleton decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a lower court’s decision that blocked components of South Carolina’s SB20,  an Arizona-like immigration law.

On Monday, July 22, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled against a 2008 ordinance in Farmers Branch, Texas, that would have required all would-be renters to supply information about their legal status and obtain a rental license from a building inspector charged with judging an applicant’s residency  eligibility.

In its decision, the federal court relied on the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that tossed out key provisions of Arizona’s SB 1070 as an infringement on federal authority in immigration matters.

The Farmers Branch ruling, said attorney Omar Jadwat of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU),  “will prevent municipal governments from investigating and discriminating against immigrants and people of color.” The ordinance, Jadwat said, “now joins many others of its kind that have been discredited and abandoned to history’s scrapheap through a series of court rulings.”

July’s legal rulings on immigration in three separate federal court circuits were variously praised by the ACLU, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Immigration Law Center and the Southern Poverty Law Center, among others.

“This week’s decisions are a powerful reminder that our Constitution protects immigrants from harassment and scapegoating by state and local governments,” the ACLU’s Omar Jadwat added.

Nonetheless, supporters of state and locally-generated immigration regulations and restrictions weren’t ready to throw in the towel. Hazleton Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi vowed to continue the legal battle with private donations. Reportedly, supporters of the ordinance have spent or received more than $500,000 to litigate the case. Michael Jung, an attorney for Farmers Branch, said city councilors in the Dallas suburb were expected to discuss their legal options in August.

Additional sources: cnsnews.com/Associated Press, July 26, 2013. NPR News/ Associated Press, July 23, 2013.


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