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Schnader Participates in Successful Defense of a Lower Court Decision Striking Down Hazelton, PA Immigration Ordinances

On September 9, 2010 by Schnader in Appellate

In July 2006, the City of Hazleton (the City), a municipality in Northeastern Pennsylvania, enacted two ordinances designed to penalize landlords who leased property to aliens lacking lawful immigration status in the United States, as well as to penalize employers who employed such aliens. Among other things, the ordinances provided that such landlords and employers would be fined and/or have their business licenses revoked; that if residents reported alleged violations to the City, the accused landlords and employers would be required to produce paperwork disproving the allegations; and that any former employee dismissed by an employer in violation of the ordinances would have a private cause of action against the employer. Supporters of the ordinances argued that they were necessary because the arrival of “illegal aliens” in the City had supposedly triggered an increase in crime and a downturn in the local economy.

In August 2006, a group of Hazleton residents, with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), brought suit against the City in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, seeking to invalidate the ordinances on several grounds, most notably the ground that they were preempted by federal law. The plaintiffs objected to the ordinances because of the likelihood that they would be used to harass Latino residents of the City on the basis of their ethnicity, irrespective of their actual immigration status.

In July 2007, the District Court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment and struck down the ordinances. After the City appealed, the ACLU asked Schnader to represent a group of twelve interfaith organizations from Catholic, Jewish, and Protestant backgrounds, who wished to file an amicus curiae brief in support of affirmance. While the ACLU, working in conjunction with Cozen O’Connor, briefed the plaintiffs’ case on preemption and other applicable legal issues, the interfaith organizations and Schnader focused their brief on the absence of moral justification for the ordinances as illustrated by our nation’s historical experiences with immigration. The amicus brief pointed out that the arrival of every new immigrant group in American history was met with accusations that the new group was uniquely prone to crime and antisocial behavior and would not assimilate into larger American society. In every case, the accusations ultimately proved unfounded. The brief was prepared by Paul Titus, Nancy Winkelman, Justin Park, Ed Sholinsky, and Jennifer Pao.

A panel of the Third Circuit unanimously affirmed the District Court’s judgment in a 188-page opinion filed on September 9, 2010.