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2007-11-02 16:00:00

Legal Alert: Hazleton PA Anti-Immigration Law Voided

Owners and managers of rental property through the country have been anxiously awaiting the outcome of a court case challenging the legality of the Hazleton, PA, anti-immigration ordinance. A similar ordinance was enacted in Escondido, CA, last fall; however, that ordinance was later withdrawn by the Escondido City Council after a federal court judge issued a restraining order preventing the City from enforcing the ordinance. These types of ordinances, which have been enacted in numerous cities throughout the country, would severely penalize landlords who rent to undocumented persons through monetary fines, suspension of business licenses and other similar penalties. The Hazleton decision is not binding on similar ordinances in other cities, but since many of those ordinances are the same as (or very similar to) the Hazleton ordinance, similar findings may be expected in future court decisions.

Hazleton's Illegal Immigration Relief Act (IIRA) sought to impose fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and deny business permits to companies that hired illegal immigrants. Another measure would have required tenants to register with City Hall and pay for a rental permit.

U.S. District Judge James MunleyOn July 26, 2007, U.S. District Judge James Munley (shown at right) voided the Hazleton ordinance based on testimony from a nine-day trial held in March. Hazleton's mayor says he intends to file an appeal.

In a 206-page opinion (which can be found at, Munley said the act was pre-empted by federal law and would violate due process rights. The ACLU was instrumental in helping to oppose this ordinance, as it was in the lawsuit challenging the Escondido ordinance.

In the Hazleton decision, the judge made the following points:

  • "Immigration status can only be determined by an immigration judge. […] Further, the proceeding before the immigration judge is the 'sole and exclusive pro-cedure for determining whether an alien may be admitted to the United States or, if the alien has been so admitted, removed from the United States.' 8 U.S.C. § 1229a(a)(3)"
  • "Because the [ordinance] does not provide notice to challenged employees or tenants, does not inform the employers and owners/landlords of the types of identity information needed, and provides for judicial review in a court system that lacks jurisdiction, it violates the due process rights of employers, employees, tenants and owners/landlords. It is therefore unconstitutional."
  • "[…] the Tenant Registration Ordinance and the housing provisions of the IIRA" which forbid landlords from entering into leases with "undocumented aliens […] are in violation of [42 U.S.C.] section 1981" [Civil Rights Act of 1866]. Section 1981 provides: "(a) Statement of equal rights. All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penal-ties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind, and to no other."

Court's Conclusion

While several of the plaintiffs' counts were dismissed by the judge, the opinion closes with these critical decisions:

  • "Federal law prohibits Hazleton from enforcing any of the provisions of its ordinances. Thus, we will issue a permanent injunction enjoining their enforcement."
  • "The ordinances disrupt a well-established federal scheme for regulating the presence and employment of immigrants in the United States. They violate the Su-premacy Clause of the United States Constitution and are unconstitutional."
  • "The Hazleton ordinances violate the procedural due process protections of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. They penalize landlords, tenants, employers and employees without providing them the procedural protections required by federal law, including notice and an opportunity to be heard. Our analysis applies to illegal aliens as well as to legal residents and citizens. The United States Constitution provides due process protections to all persons." 
  • ""On Count V, which alleges a violation of plaintiffs' right to contract under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, we find for the plaintiffs. Just as with the Fourteenth Amendment analysis, illegal aliens are 'persons' under that statute, and the City may not burden their right to contract more than that of other persons."
  • "Plaintiffs prevail on Count IX, which contends that defendant exceeded its police powers. Defendant exceeded its police powers by enacting unconstitutional ordinances."

The Hazleton decision is very encouraging for landlords in Escondido and other cities throughout the country. We will keep you informed of any new developments in this case and any others that could affect your property rights and business operations.
(This legal alert is for general information purposes only. Before acting be sure to receive legal advice from our office. If you have any questions about this alert, please contact the nearest KTS office in your location. For past alerts and articles on other related topics, please consult the resource library section of this web site.)

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