Federal Judge Strikes Down Hazleton Anti-Immigrant Ordinance

MALDEF touts legal victory for all Americans

July 26, 2007

WASHINGTON, DC - Today a federal judge struck down the city of Hazleton’s anti-immigrant ordinance, ruling it unconstitutional. 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 right to due process, and violated federal and state law.

“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.

The 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.

In the opinion issued today, Judge Munley concluded that “[w]hatever frustrations officials of the City of Hazelton 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 Hazelton’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. Hazelton, 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.”

'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.

“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.

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund