PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A small New Jersey town repealed a law designed to crack down on illegal immigration in the latest setback for U.S. cities seeking to enact similar measures, civil rights campaigners said on Tuesday.
The Riverside Township law, which would have penalized landlords who rented rooms to illegal immigrants and businesses that hired them, was challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit that argued the law violated civil rights, overstepped the town’s authority and put businesses at risk.
Riverside Township’s decision to scrap the law, agreed late on Monday, represents the first time that a municipality planning such a measure has backed down in the face of a lawsuit, said Omar Jadwat, an attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
“This is the latest in a string of defeats for these ordinances,” said Jadwat. “Those towns should look at the writing on the wall and see that this isn’t an option that’s open to them.”
According to the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, an immigrants’ rights group, 129 municipalities across the United States have passed or are considering such measures, although none has implemented them.
Local efforts to deter undocumented aliens from settling in their towns follow a failure by the federal government to enact nationwide reforms to deal with the estimated 12 million people illegally in the United States.
In July, a federal judge ruled that a similar measure in the Pennsylvania town of Hazleton — which became a template for many such laws — was unconstitutional. Hazleton’s city council is appealing the decision.
In Riverside, about 10 miles northeast of Philadelphia, an ordinance rescinding the law cited high legal costs and the defeat of the Hazleton law for its decision to repeal.
“The Township Committee has exerted and exhausted much time, energy, and resources into waging what can only be classified as the beginning stages of this battle in the federal and state court systems,” the ordinance said.
The Hazleton council, like many local authorities that followed its lead, accused illegal immigrants, mostly Latinos, of increasing crime, overburdening social services and failing to assimilate into American society.