The subject of immigration can often be a controversial topic. Given the fact that this is a sensitive issue for some people, it is not surprising when individuals choose to shy away from a discussion or debate involving immigration and the current immigration reform bill.
Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court chose to sidestep the issue by declining to hear a couple of immigration cases. The cases are City of Hazleton v. Lozano and City of Farmers Branch. Both of these cases involve housing ordinances as they apply to immigrants.
These ordinances came about when the two cities (Hazleton, Pennsylvania and Farmers Branch, Texas) decided that the federal government was lacking in its enforcement of immigration laws. Both cities implemented ordinances that, in part, “required tenants to provide identification that could later be verified with immigration authorities and penalized landlords from renting” to undocumented immigrants.
In addition, the ordinance in Hazleton further penalized employers if they knowingly employed undocumented immigrants. In both cases, causes of action were brought by groups of tenants, landlords, employers and workers who disputed the legality of the ordinances. There has been a considerable amount of opposition by immigrant advocates who argued that these ordinances were unlawful.
One group opposing the Farmers Branch ordinance was the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). Nina Perales, an attorney with the organization, stated that the ordinance was troublesome. “The problems created by the ordinance were much bigger than the immigrant community and many people in the town were Latino - some were immigrant, some were not - but when the tensions rose around this ordinance it was affecting everybody," Perales said.
The plaintiffs were successful in these cases and those victories led challengers to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and request review. The Supreme Court is under no obligation to hear cases. Every year, it is overloaded with potential cases and it is unrealistic to expect the Court to hear each and every one of them. However, this is not to say that the cases that they do hear are chosen at random. Many people speculate that the Court is very particular about the cases it does decide to hear.
In these current cases, the Court declined to hear the appeals and thus avoided deciding cases involving complicated and controversial immigration issues. This allows the Court to refrain from giving an opinion that may or may not affect the current immigration reform bill that has stalled in Congress.
A similar ordinance was held to be lawful by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. It upheld the law because “it did not penalize immigrants themselves, unlike the two ordinances at issue in the cases before the Supreme Court. Under both ordinances, tenants can be arrested and fined for occupying a residence without the necessary license.”
The Supreme Court has not heard a notable immigration case since 2012. Here, it partially upheld our home state of Arizona's immigration law. In 2011, the Court upheld another Arizona law that punishes businesses for hiring undocumented immigrants.
What do you think about the Supreme Court declining to hear these cases? Was it a strategic move to avoid taking these cases? If the Court had decided to hear the cases, do you have thoughts on how they would have turned out? Would the holdings have been affirmed or reversed?