- posted: Mar. 03, 2014
Can a city pass a local ordinance related to enforcement of immigration laws?
The US Supreme Court has yet to speak definitively on this subject. However, today, the US Supreme Court left intact other federal court rulings that say such city ordinances are trumped by federal law.
The Supreme Court refused to hear appeals that were filed by two towns that had passed such ordinances and which were prevented from enforcing these restrictive policies. The Court declined to take up the appeals from city of Farmers Branch, Texas (a suburb of Dallas) and from the city of Hazleton, PA. Lower court rulings had blocked local ordinances regulating rental housing. The local ordinance were designed to keep undocumented aliens from being able to rent apartments. The Hazelton case also involved an ordinance that would have denied permits to businesses that hired people who are in the US without documentation.
The Supreme Court held in 2012 that immigration is primarily a matter for the federal government, ruling out most local and state laws targeting illegal immigration.
However, in June 2013, the 8th US. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a similar Fremont, Nebraska ordinance. Analysts say that ordinance is different because it does not penalize immigrants themselves, unlike the two ordinances at issue in the cases before the Supreme Court. Under the Farmers Branch and Hazelton ordinances, tenants could be arrested and fined for occupying a residence without the necessary license.
For now, it appears that local attempts to enforce immigration laws will not survive judicial scrutiny. But I am sure this is not the last word on the subject.