Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court – the highest court in the land that makes the ultimate decision on any case it hears – declined to hear a case involving immigrant rights and the attempts by Texas and Pennsylvania towns to revitalize local ordinances aimed at cracking down on unauthorized immigration.
Last year, the towns of Hazelton, Pennsylvania and Farmers Branch, Texas (independently) passed local town ordinances that required tenants who were renting residences from landlords to present the landlord with identification documents that could be verified by immigration authorities (the ordinances provided for other requirements as well). If the identification documents indicated that the tenant was in the U.S. without lawful immigration status, the ordinances provided for the penalization of the landlords on account of their renting to unauthorized immigrants. (The local ordinance adopted in Hazelton also penalized local employers for knowingly hiring immigrants without lawful work authorization).
Representatives from the town stated that the reasoning behind the adoption of these ordinances was the local populations’ opinion that the federal government is failing to enforce immigration laws.
After the ordinances were adopted, several landlords, tenants, businesses and employees filed lawsuits in the respective state courts and in both cases, the towns lost. The towns also lost when they filed their appeals to the higher courts.
And now that the Supreme Court has declined to hear the case – thereby leaving the appeals courts’ decisions to dismiss the lawsuits – the towns have no further legal recourse and cannot enforce the local ordinances at issue.
Supreme Court commentators are postulating that the court’s refusal to hear the cases stems more from its desire to avoid discussing and ruling on controversial immigration issue than from the justices’ agreement that the ordinances were unconstitutional.
Although the Supreme Court did not hear the case, six federal appeals courts have heard cases involving similar ordinances that relate to housing. Of these cases, five courts have ruled that the ordinances in question conflicted with the federal government’s responsibility as the enforcer of immigration laws.
The one court that did not reach the same conclusion was the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which is located in St. Louis, Missouri. In June 2013, this court upheld the Fremont, Nebraska ordinance that is similar to the two at issue in the Supreme Court case. However, the lawyers in the Nebraska case allege that the Fremont ordinance differs in a very important way – the Fremont ordinance did not punish the tenants themselves whereas under the Hazelton and Farmers Branch ordinances, the tenants could be arrested and fined.
There have been multiple opportunities for the Supreme Court to hear cases involving immigration issues but that last time the court agreed to do so was back in 2012. That year, the justices upheld and rejected different parts of the controversial Arizona immigration law that punishes businesses for employing unauthorized immigrants.
While the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear this case proved to be a victory in and of itself for immigrant rights – since the ordinances will not be enforced – it would have been even better if the justices had heard the case, and announced that immigrant rights cannot be violated. Hopefully the Supreme Court will choose to hear the next immigration case that is presented to it, and will firmly solidify immigrant rights while we continue to await reform.
Additional Blog Posts
Immigration Judges Request Separation from the Department of Justice, ImmigRantings, August 19, 2013
More States Expected to Exert Control Regarding Illegal Immigration Problems, ImmigRantings, August 3, 2013