True American values won a victory yesterday, as a federal court struck down an anti-immigration ordinance in the town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. All of us should welcome this rebuke to scapegoating and fearmongering in a town whose mayor sought to create, in his own words, "one of the most difficult places in America for illegal immigrants." The ruling will hopefully send a message to other municipalities that seek to usurp the immigration policymaking role clearly reserved for our federal government. The Scranton federal court declared unconstitutional Hazleton's Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which penalized businesses that hire and landlords who rent to undocumented immigrants. If this and other local laws were upheld, anyone who looks or sounds foreign would be forced to prove his or her immigration status at every step and America would have a patchwork of hundreds or thousands of different immigration policies.
In court proceedings that began soon after the law's passage by the Hazleton city council in 2006, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund sought to demonstrate that it is mean-spirited, misguided, undemocratic and illegal. We argued successfully that the Act would have fostered an angry climate of suspicion, not merely encouraging discrimination, but in effect rewarding it.
Hazleton Mayor Louis J. Barletta claims he's just begun to fight. He continues to develop a national following and raise money and media attention in the hope of appealing today's ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. For our part, we intend to protect and build on this victory to ensure that our states and cities treat immigrants fairly and justly.
The court's ruling is a defeat for those who want to use illegal immigrants as scapegoats for our nation's social and economic ills. As the court stated, "[T]he 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. Hazleton, 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."
Congress has yet to pass meaningful immigration reforms that could address the government's past failures in this area. And it comes as no surprise that the same forces pushing local municipalities to pass Hazleton-like laws have also fought against fair federal immigration reform.
What the hatemongers who want to roll back the American dream don't seem to grasp is that this is a fight for our heritage. It's a fight for those who seek to work hard and make a living as have all the waves of immigrants who came before them. And it's a fight for simple justice regardless of accent or skin color.