Federal courts strike down discriminatory, anti-immigrant laws

justiceLast week, we were pleased to see that two federal courts of appeals — the Fifth and Third Circuit — ruled that discriminatory, anti-immigrant ordinances in Farmers Branch, Texas, and Hazleton, Pennsylvania, were unconstitutional.

Both circuit courts found that the ordinance was preempted (overridden) by federal law because they were aimed at excluding immigrants within the cities of Farmers Branch and Hazleton. This creates a clear conflict with federal immigration law, which provides the federal government with the power to oversee federal immigration policy. As the U.S. Supreme Court noted in its decision last year invalidating most of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law, the federal government has “broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration.”

These ordinances created a licensing scheme that prevented undocumented immigrants from obtaining housing and created criminal penalties for landlords and tenants who were found to have violated the ordinance. These laws are nearly identical to Fremont’s anti-immigration ordinance, which also established significant barriers to housing. The severely harsh purpose and effect behind all of these laws are to make life for immigrants in these towns nearly impossible. As our Voices from Fremont series makes clear, these ordinances come at great social and economic cost by destroying the sense of community, causing division, and creating high legal costs to defend the law.

The Eighth Circuit recently ruled in favor of Fremont’s anti-immigrant ordinance, a decision that stands in direct conflict with the recent decisions from the Fifth and Third Circuit.  Many states and cities have rejected these socially toxic and economically self-defeating laws and have moved forward, along with a majority of Americans, in supporting a positive federal immigration law that includes a roadmap to citizenship.

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