Despite the incendiary anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of Washington these days (see Rep. Steve King on drugmules and cantaloupes), the attempts by local and state governments to harass and eventually deport undocumented immigrants have just suffered a resounding defeat in the courts of law.
During the last week of July, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the nation’s leading civil rights NGOs, along with its partnering organizations Mexican American Legal and Defense Fund (MALDEF), the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Immigration Law Center, and Latino Justice PRLDEF, won three major cases that may indicate that the tide is turning.
“In the three rulings, the legal reasoning was based upon the notion of federal supremacy on immigration law,” says Omar Jadwat, an attorney at the ACLU Immigrant Rights Project. “The courts made it also clear their special concern to stop discrimination or scapegoating of immigrants by local or state authorities,” he added.
Here is a brief description of each case:
- On Friday July 26, the Third Circuit Court rejected Hazleton, Pa.'s housing and employment ordinances of 2006, which penalized landlords and employers for renting to or hiring undocumented immigrants. The court found that those ordinances targeted Latinos and upheld earlier rulings that blocked them from going into effect.
- On July 20, the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that an ordinance enacted by the City of Farmers Branch, Texas, that restricted access to housing based on immigration status should remain permanently blocked.
- Similar laws in Valley Park, Mo.; Escondido, Ca.; Cherokee County, Ga.; and Riverside, NJ, have also been blocked by the courts or withdrawn after being challenged in court. Only one law of this sort, in Fremont, Neb., has been allowed to go into effect, but proceedings continue.
- Finally, on what is probably the most important of the three cases, on July 31 the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decided that key provisions of South Carolina's immigration law, or Act 69 –based on Arizona’s infamous SB 1070 --should also remain blocked.
The only section of the law that the ruling left standing is the provision that allows verifying the immigration status of a person during legal traffic stops, but only if there is a valid reason to suspect the commission of a crime. However, the ruling —following the Supreme Court's ruling on Arizona’s SB 1070-- makes also establishes that no person can be arrested in connection with her or his legal status.
This decision adds to a string of defeats for Arizona's SB 1070’s copycat laws in Alabama, Georgia, Utah, and Indiana, all of which are now blocked. Jadwat believes that future appeals are unlikely. “Given the state of the law, that would be a poor decision on the part of the state or the cities.”
“The States have been prevented from moving forward, but there are still problems at local level,” says Jadwat. ACLU recently won a lawsuit against Maricopa County’s sheriff Joe Arpaio. “In any case, these rulings show that the courts can effectively stand up to the fact that the constitution protects immigrants from discrimination,” concluded Jadwat.