High court refuses to hear Hazleton immigrant ordinance appeal

Posted: March 05, 2014

Ending a closely watched case, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear an appeal of a controversial 2006 Hazleton, Pa., ordinance that barred undocumented immigrants from renting homes in the Luzerne County city.

The ordinance was not being enforced pending the outcome of the legal battle, but it had been among the first in a series of restrictions enacted by municipalities nationwide, and challenged by advocates for immigrants and by the federal government.

The ordinance was deemed unconstitutional last year by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia, which held that Hazleton's attempt to regulate immigration "unduly interfered" with a fundamental function of the federal government.

Hazleton Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi said Monday that he was "shocked" that the Supreme Court chose not to take the case.

"All of the information we had from our legal advisers was that [the high court] would have to hear it," because case law is unsettled among the different circuits, Yannuzzi said. "They surprised us by not hearing it."

He said Hazleton had raised and spent about $500,000 in donations to support the litigation.

Lozano v. Hazleton drew a national spotlight, with lawyers for the right-leaning Immigration Law Reform Institute of Washington representing the municipality, and the national and Pennsylvania chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union representing the plaintiffs. Pedro Lozano, the lead plaintiff, is a Hazleton landlord who alleged that he lost prospective tenants because of the ordinance. The town has a population of about 15,000, including many immigrants from Central America.

In addition to the bar on rental housing, Hazleton enacted an ordinance that would have punished residents and businesses for engaging in commercial transactions with individuals who could not prove they were authorized to work in the United States.

After a two-week trial, the federal court in Scranton struck down the ordinances in 2007. The city appealed and lost again at the appeals court level in 2010.

What does the Supreme Court's decision to opt out of Hazleton mean to the town? "Not much," said Yannuzzi, "because the ordinance was never implemented.

"If it stays on the books it will never be enforced. To make it more official, it should probably be rescinded."

The Supreme Court also declined to hear a similar case out of Farmers Branch, Texas.

"Now that these appeals are over," said Omar Jadwat, supervising attorney of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, "we look forward to Farmers Branch and Hazleton joining cities across the nation that are looking at ways to make their cities welcoming places for immigrants, rather [than] writing hostility and discrimination into municipal law."


mmatza@phillynews.com

215-854-2541 @MichaelMatza1

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