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.
“We are grateful the court recognized that municipal laws like those in Hazleton are unconstitutional. The trial record showed that these ordinances are based on propaganda and deception,” said Vic Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and a lead attorney in the case. “Hazleton-type laws are designed to make life miserable for millions of immigrants. They promote distrust of all foreigners, including those here legally, and fuel xenophobia and discrimination, especially against Latinos.”
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Hazleton residents, landlords and business owners by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Community Justice Project and the law firm of Cozen O’Connor.
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.
"This ruling strikes a hard blow to the anti-immigrant movement and reinforces important constitutional principles beyond the small town of Hazleton. Political leaders, like Mayor Barletta, must stop scapegoating undocumented immigrants for all the problems we confront in our local communities," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "It is time to stop promoting discrimination and wrongheaded policies so that we can come together to find a national solution for our country's immigration issues."
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.
The ACLU is closely monitoring other cities and towns that are considering or have enacted similar ordinances to Hazleton’s, and has initiated several related legal challenges.
“Today’s decision sends an unmistakable message to local officials across the nation that these types of ordinances are a waste of taxpayer money, anathema to American values and a violation of the Constitution,” said Omar Jadwat of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
Today’s decision and more information on the case, Lozano v. Hazleton, is online at: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/lozano-v-hazleton-opinion?redirect=immigrants-rights/lozano-v-hazleton-opinion
In addition to the attorneys listed above, the legal team also included Lucas Guttentag, Lee Gelernt, and Jennifer Chang of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.