These Cities Are Trying to Bully Undocumented Immigrants Out of Town

Mindy Schauer/The Orange County Register/ZUMAPress


As House Speaker John Boehner continues to block immigration reform, a couple of US cities are pushing laws that would run immigrants out of town.

Last month, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and Farmers Branch, Texas, asked the Supreme Court to hear cases challenging city ordinances that make it illegal for landlords to rent to undocumented immigrants. Both cities say that the high court should uphold their local laws, which have been struck down in lower courts, because a US appeals court recently upheld similar legislation passed by the town of Fremont, Nebraska.

But immigrant advocates say that the two cities’ laws are doomed because they are very similar to Arizona’s draconian immigration law, passed in 2010, which also criminalized being an immigrant. The Supreme Court invalidated most of the provisions of Arizona’s statute in June 2012 because they interfered with the federal government’s authority over immigration. Both the Hazleton and Farmers Branch laws were struck down by lower courts for this precise reason.

“The Supreme Court spoke clearly in the Arizona decision about overriding the federal role of immigration enforcement,” says Sam Brooks of the Souther Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project. Not only are these types of laws likely unconstitutional, he adds, they encourage racial profiling by community members worried about giving leases to the wrong people.

Other towns have proposed laws that would stop landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants. San Bernardino, California, was the first to consider such a law in 2006. It was eventually voted down. Valley Park, Missouri, enacted this type of ordinance in 2006. It was challenged twice but upheld by a federal court in 2008. Scores of other municipalities and states have considered legislation that mimics the city housing ordinances and Arizona’s law.

Most of the anti-immigrant statutes can be traced back to one man: Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas and chief counsel at the conservative Immigration Law Reform Institute (ILRI). Kobach helped craft the laws in Arizona, Hazleton, Farmers Branch, Fremont, and Valley Park, and has defended them in court.

ILRI is the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which was founded by John Tanton, an English-only advocate who has ties to white supremacists.

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