Court Decision Striking Down Hazleton, PA Anti-Immigrant Ordinance Sends Warning to Virginia Localities
Hazleton, PA – In the first trial decision of its kind, a federal court has declared unconstitutional a local ordinance that sought to punish landlords and employers for doing business with undocumented immigrants. The landmark decision in the closely-watched challenge to Hazleton's anti-immigrant ordinance held that the ordinance cannot be enforced.
Although no Virginia locality has yet passed an ordinance as onerous as Hazelton’s, several, including Chesterfield County and Culpeper, have discussed taking similar actions. Prince William County and Loudoun County recently passed anti-immigrant measures that could result in increased scrutiny for all immigrants and denial of some public services.
Last year, Manassas was forced to repeal an anti-immigrant ordinance that restricted the manner in which families could live together after the ACLU of Virginia threatened to sue.
“This is an important case not just for the immigrant community in Hazelton, but for the message it sends to local governments across the nation, including those in Virginia,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “These local ordinances promote distrust of all foreigners, including those here legally, and fuel xenophobia and discrimination, especially against Latinos.”
In today's decision, Judge James M. Munley wrote, "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 act … The United States Supreme Court has consistently interpreted [the 14th Amendment] to apply to all people present in the United States, whether they were born here, immigrated here through legal means, or violated federal law to enter the country."
The ACLU and co-counsel successfully argued that anti-immigrant laws like Hazleton's are unconstitutional because they usurp federal immigration policy, fail to provide procedural protection to people before they are fired or evicted, and violate federal civil rights law.
During the two-week trial, Hazleton officials claimed that undocumented immigrants are responsible for an increase in local crime. But evidence at trial rejected that claim and showed that over the last 30 years undocumented immigrants have had the lowest incarceration rate of young men of every ethnic group. A 2002 study shows that the rate of incarceration among native-born men was five times higher than that of foreign-born men.
Today's decision and more information on the case, Lozano v. Hazleton, is online at: www.aclu.org/hazleton