Yesterday, voters in Fremont, NE approved a measure which imposes a ban on hiring or renting property to undocumented immigrants. Renters will be required to apply for a license from the city and businesses will have to use the controversial E-Verify database to verify the immigration status of employees. Unlike Arizona’s unprecedented immigration law, SB-1070, that was recently passed, other localities have experimented with Fremont’s approach. And, for the most part, similar efforts haven’t just been costly and impractical, they’ve also been considered unconstitutional.
One of the first towns to enact the measures that were recently adopted by Fremont was Hazleton, PA. However, Hazleton didn’t get very far. In less than a year, a U.S. District judge dismissed the law and ruled that “immigration law is the province of the federal government alone.” However, a lot of the damage was already done. As many as 5,000 Latinos left town as shopkeepers reported that their business dropped by 20%. In 2009, Hazleton was forced to ask a federal judge to reconsider a ruling made in favor of the city’s insurance carrier that would hold the city responsible for paying $2.4 million in attorney fees incurred from the lawsuit.
The town of Riverside, NJ passed an almost identical law — but it didn’t wait for a judge to decide it was unconstitutional before rescinding it in 2007. At that point the town of 8,000 had spent $82,000 in legal fees defending its ordinance. Hundreds, “if not thousands” of residents abandoned the city, as “hair salons, restaurants and corner shops that catered to the immigrants saw business plummet.” A case in nearby Plainfield, NJ, hinted at how Riverside’s lawsuit would’ve likely ended had the town continued to pursue it. In reference to a lawsuit attempting to use anti-organized-crime laws to prevent a landlord from renting to undocumented immigrants in Plainfield, a federal judge ruled that “[r]enting an apartment to an alien does not amount to harboring.”
Currently, both Farmers Branch, TX and the state of Arizona are engaged in their own costly legal battles. Farmers Branch, a small town of 30,000 people, has spent $3.2 million to repeal a federal district judge decision which deemed the town’s rental ban ordinance unconstitutional and may have to spend an additional $623,000 this year. Arizona has taken its E-verify and employer sanctions law all the way to the Supreme Court. In an amicus brief filed last month, the Solicitor General wrote that the Arizona law “disrupt[s] a careful balance that Congress struck nearly 25 years ago between two interests of the highest importance: ensuring that employers do not undermine enforcement of immigration laws by hiring unauthorized workers, while also ensuring that employers not discriminate against racial and ethnic minorities legally in the country.”
While proponents of these measures argue that illegal immigration is costing local taxpayers a lot of money, chances are the questionable legality of laws like the one approved in Fremont, NE will cost them a lot more. The ACLU has already promised to take Fremont’s ordinance to court. Unfortunately the only winners of any legal battle are going to be the lawyers at the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) — legal advocates who get paid to write laws that challenge the constitution and then make an even bigger profit when their work is tested in court.