For Immediate Release
Hazleton, PA Anti-Immigrant Law Is Unconstitutional, Federal Appeals Court Rules
PHILADELPHIA - The
U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit today issued a sweeping
decision striking down as unconstitutional the city of Hazleton's law
that would punish landlords and employers who are accused of renting to
or hiring anyone the city classifies as an "illegal alien."
The case, Lozano v. Hazleton,
has been closely watched across the country because the Hazleton
ordinance has served as a model for similar laws nationwide and was
challenged by civil rights groups in a lengthy trial. The suit has been
underway for more than four years in the federal district and circuit
courts. Today's unanimous appeals court decision is the latest legal
victory against discriminatory state and local laws that target
immigrants and invite racial profiling against Latinos and others who
appear "foreign." Many cities like Fremont, Nebraska and Summerville,
South Carolina have voluntarily tabled or blocked these laws under legal
pressure and local opposition.
"This is a major defeat for the
misguided, divisive and expensive anti-immigrant strategy that Hazleton
has tried to export to the rest of the country," said Omar Jadwat, a
staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrants'
Rights Project. "The Constitution does not allow states and cities to
interfere with federal immigration laws or to adopt measures that
discriminate against Latino and immigrant communities."
Hazleton adopted its first
anti-immigrant ordinance in August 2006. A civil rights coalition
including the ACLU, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the
Community Justice Project and the law firm Cozen O'Connor immediately
filed a lawsuit challenging the law on behalf of Hazleton residents,
landlords and business owners. Today's ruling upholds a July 2007 ruling
by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
concluding that the Hazleton ordinances were preempted by federal law
"Hazleton's discriminatory law
decimated a town that used to be bustling with life and commerce," said
Vic Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and a lead
attorney in the case. "Divisive laws like these destroy communities and
distract from the very real problems that local governments are facing
across the country. Immigration reform needs to come from the federal
level. Local ordinances like these have a toxic effect on the community,
injecting suspicion and discriminatory attitudes where they didn't
During the trial, Hazleton officials
claimed that undocumented immigrants were responsible for bankrupting
the city, driving up healthcare costs and increasing local crime. In
fact, the evidence at trial showed that from 2000-2005, Latino
immigrants actually helped to transform a huge city budget deficit into a
surplus, that the private hospital system made a $4 million profit and
that the crime rate actually fell.
"The Latino plaintiffs who brought
this lawsuit knew this law was intended to drive them out of Hazleton,"
said Cesar Perales, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice
PRLDEF. "The court clearly recognized this danger."
Friend-of-the-court briefs opposing
the Hazleton law were filed by numerous civil rights, religious, labor
and business organizations, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the
labor union coalition Change to Win, the American Jewish Committee,
Capuchin Franciscan Friars, Lutheran Children and Family Services, the
Friends Committee on National Legislation, Legal Momentum, the Lawyers'
Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Southern Poverty Law Center,
the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Anti-Defamation League and
the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Related issues involving state
authority to enact laws addressing immigrant employment are pending
before the Supreme Court in the case, Chamber of Commerce v. Candelaria, brought by the ACLU and other groups challenging an Arizona statute.
Attorneys on the case include Jadwat,
Lucas Guttentag, Jennifer Chang Newell and Lee Gelernt of the ACLU
Immigrants' Rights Project; Walczak and Mary Catherine Roper from the
ACLU of Pennsylvania; Shamaine Daniels of the Community Justice Project;
Foster Maer, Ghita Schwarz and Jackson Chin of LatinoJustice PRLDEF;
and Thomas G. Wilkinson and Ilan Rosenberg of Cozen O'Connor.
The ruling is online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/lozano-v-hazleton-opinion
A video with interviews with ACLU attorneys and clients is online at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=k8vr66MYZn8
More information on the case, Lozano v. Hazleton, is online at: www.aclu.org/hazleton
More information on the case, Chamber of Commerce v. Candelaria, is online at: www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/chamber-commerce-v-candelaria
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.