Thursday, July 26, 2007
As predicted here yesterday, the federal district court in Pennsylvania has issued a decision on the case challenging the Hazleton immigration ordinance. Among other findings, which I will comment after a thorough review of the 200 pages-plus decision, the court concluded that the Hazleton ordinance was prempted by federal law. See the ruling at Download lozano_decision_72607.pdf
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) declared victory. Judge James M. Munley decided in favor of the Latino plaintiffs and found that the ordinance usurped the federal government’s exclusive power to regulate immigration, deprived residents of their constitutional rights to equal protection and due process, and violated state and federal housing law. Hazleton's Illegal Immigration Relief Act would have imposed steep fines on landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants and denied business permits to owners who hired them. Judge Munley issued a temporary restraining order in October preventing the city from implementing the ordinance, followed by a trial in March. "We salute our colleagues at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union for this critical victory" stated MALDEF Litigation Director Cynthia Valenzuela.
The Hazelton decision is consistent with court victories in Escondido, California and Valley Park, Missouri. Most recently, MALDEF won a preliminary injunction to block implementation of an anti-immigrant ordinance in Farmers Branch, Texas. “The Hazleton decision is not only a victory for the rule of law, but for all Americans who value equality and justice,” stated John Trasviña, MALDEF President and General Counsel. “Judge Munley’s decision stands as a stern warning to other communities who might be contemplating taking immigration reform into their own hands,” added Eric Gutierrez, MALDEF Legislative Staff Attorney.
Update: In a ruling more than 200 pages long, the court struck down the Hazleton ordinance on a number of grounds under federal and state law. Among other things, the court found that the Hazleton ordinance was both expressly and impliedly preempted by federal immigration law (and distinguished DeCanas v. Bica (1976), which refused to disturb a state law outlawing the employment of undocumented immigrants, on the grounds that Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986 and now prohibits the employment of undocumented immigrants), parts violated the Due Process Clause, and that Hazleton violated Pennsylvania municipal law by acting ultra vires on immigration.
Near the end of the decision, the district court emphasized what really is the nub of the matter:
"Whatever frustrations officials of the City of Hazleton may feel about the current state of federal immigration enforcement, the nature of the political system in the United States prohibits the City from enacting ordinances that disrupt a carefully drawn federal statutory scheme. Even if federal law did not conflict with Hazleton's measures, the City could not enact an ordinance that violates rights the Constitution guarantees to every person in the United States, whether legal resident or not. 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. Hazleton, in its zeal to control the presence of a group deemed undesirable, violated the rights of such people, as well as others within the community. Since the United States Constitution protects even the disfavored, the ordinances cannot be enforced."
As an aside, the opinion cites some of our favorite immigration law profs, including Lenni Benson, Dan Kanstroom, Gerald Neuman, Gloria Sandrino-Glasser, and Peter Spiro. Non-law profs Kitty Calavita, Sucheng Chan, John Higham, Mae Ngai, and Aristide Zolberg are cited as well. Sorry if I missed anyone!
The news reports today try to analyze what the decision means. But, as USA Today's Emily Bazar and the Houston Chronicle's Cythnia Garza (here) suggests (here), it cannot be a good sign for local efforts to regulate immigration by punishing undocumented immigrants.
Many have pointed to the fact that local tensions are rising on immigration in part dur to the failure of Congress to enact immigration reform. Along thise lines, Senator Barack Obama released the following statement in response to Judge James Munley’s ruling:
“Today's ruling by Judge James Munley is a victory for all Americans. The anti-immigrant law passed by Mayor Barletta was unconstitutional and unworkable – and it underscores the need for comprehensive immigration reform so local communities do not continue to take matters into their own hands. Recently, the U.S. Senate failed the American people by blocking progress on immigration reform for the second time in two years. We cannot put this off any longer. The ongoing problems with our immigration system are dividing our country, and distracting us from the work we need to do in other important areas such as health care, education, and jobs. We need to act urgently to create an immigration system that secures our borders and enforces our laws, reflects our best traditions as a nation of immigrants, and upholds the values and ideals that all Americans cherish. I have been fighting for that kind of system for several years now, and I will continue fighting for that kind of system until we pass comprehensive immigration reform once and for all.”