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Anti-Immigrant Laws in TX, PA, SC Reach the End of the Road

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The journey of three local anti-immigrant laws reached a dead end today, with a settlement pending in South Carolina and the Supreme Court refusing to take up housing ordinances from Farmers’ Branch, Texas and Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

Hazleton, PA and Farmers’ Branch, TX have since 2006-2007 both been defending town ordinances that denied housing to undocumented immigrants.  The Hazleton law was championed by none other than Lou Barletta, who was the town’s mayor at the time and has since been elected to Congress, where he is now one of the House’s most anti-immigrant members.  Both town laws were subjected to lawsuits, struck down, appealed, and re-appealed.  The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the cases in the highest appeals court of the land means that both ordinances have effectively come to the end of the road, and been found unconstitutional.  Read more about the ACLU and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund’s successful 7-year battle against the ordinances here.

In South Carolina, the National Immigration Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and other civil rights groups have proposed a settlement — pending review by the court — that blocks key provisions of the state’s anti-immigrant Act 69 (also known as SB 20).  The South Carolina proposal resembles the settlements that invalidated large parts of similar anti-immigrant laws in Alabama and Georgia — it will protect immigrants and residents from having to carry around immigration papers, will block “Good Samaritan” provisions that punish those who harbor or transport immigrants, and will create strict guidelines for the “show me your papers” components of the law.  The proposed settlement includes a formal opinion from the state’s attorney general clarifying that state law does not authorize law enforcement to detain a person for any period of time to determine immigration status.

The conclusion of these three local anti-immigrant laws — coupled with local advances for immigrants and the passage of the Senate immigration reform bill last year — prove how far away we are from an era when bills like Arizona’s SB 1070 were on the upswing.  Those who continue to push anti-immigrant bills (and they do still exist) should know that that’s a recipe for years of litigation and millions in legal fees.  Yet the House GOP is refusing to take advantage of this recent sea change to pass immigration reform.  The moral arc of immigration is bending towards justice — and as we’ve said many times, immigration reform will happen sooner or later.  But Republicans are apparently refusing to recognize that reality.