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Judges Throw Up Roadblocks as Communities Struggle to Enforce Laws Against Illegal Immigrants - and the Media Fail to Tell the Story

Some federal courts have declared jihad on the efforts of communities to crack down on illegal immigrants – apparently an issue of little interest to Big Media.    

Immigrants, many unwilling to disclose their names or immigration status, have successfully sued Mamaroneck, NY; Hazleton, PA; Redondo Beach, CA; Escondido, CA; Valley Park, MO; Freehold, NJ; and Farmers Branch, TX to block enforcement of locally passed immigration restrictions and city ordinances.

None of the seven lawsuits have made the news on any of the major broadcast networks.   The Washington Post and The New York Times each ran news articles on five of the stories, and USA TODAY covered four. Only the Times coverage of Mamaroneck (thirteen stories since 2006) could be described as “in-depth.” Federal judges are gumming up efforts to apply the law to illegal immigrants, one town at a time, but the media's focus is elsewhere.    

Some of the stories are shocking.

Mamaroneck, New York:  The Associated Press reported that the village of Mamaroneck (pop. 18,350) has to pay six Latino immigrants $550,000 and refrain from asking day laborers about their immigration status, according to an agreement reached following a November ruling by District Judge Colleen McMahon.  In her ruling, the judge accused the village of “harassment and intimidation” that violated plaintiffs' equal protection rights. 

The court ruled: “The evidence points inexorably to the conclusion that the police department intentionally discriminated against the plaintiffs and other day laborers by refusing to leave them alone.”

All seven plaintiffs used the alias “John Doe” to avoid disclosing their immigration status.   Also, “at the start of the trial, they dropped their original First Amendment claims — that the village had violated their rights to free speech and free association — out of concern that it would force them to reveal their immigration status.”

The town decided in 2005 to take action after residents complained about public “urination, defecation, drug use, and littering” as well as traffic violations committed by commercial vehicles picking up immigrant workers.  Mamaroneck began enforcing laws against loitering and public defecation, turning in illegals and “ticketing commercial vehicles for numerous traffic violations.” The court called the crackdown an equal protection violation, claiming city leaders were “motivated primarily by racial animus.” 

McMahon demanded police logs of residents' complaints. When the village provided the logs, the judge refused to consider them because police had not inquired into whether the complaints were “motivated, consciously or unconsciously, by racial animus.”  Is it reasonable to expect police officers to delve into the psyches of complainants when the officers can plainly see piles of human waste in the streets?

Immigrants had difficulty coming up with specific examples of abusive police conduct. “None of the John Does has ever been arrested or taken into custody by any Village police officer while seeking work in the Village," the court found. Also, “[n]one of the 128 day laborers who responded to a survey conducted by Dr. Maria Munoz Kantha and Luis Quiros between April 14 and 24 voiced any complaint about misconduct by Mamaroneck Village police. However, at a meeting with Mayor Trifiletti in August 2005, the day laborers in attendance – after thanking the mayor and expressing a desire to be good citizens – made a mild complaint about feeling intimidated by the police presence.”

Hazleton, Pennsylvania:  Mayor Louis Barletta made national headlines after getting an ordinance passed that would fine employers and landlords that do business with illegal immigrants.  Barletta won both the Republican and Democratic mayoral primaries in May, 2007, for taking a stand after illegal immigrants caused violent crime and drug use to skyrocket in Hazleton

But the ACLU and the Puerto Rican Legal and Defense Fund, along with six immigrants fearful of disclosing their names and immigration status, sued in federal court and obtained a restraining order blocking implementation of the law, claiming it is “unconstitutional” and “racist”; although they have successfully stymied the law, they are still pursuing the case. 

Redondo Beach, California:  A federal judge ruled in 2006 that the city violated immigrants' free speech by enforcing a two-and-a-half-decade-old law against soliciting work in public. “City officials said they were responding to complaints of blocked traffic, drinking and urinating in public, and disrupting local businesses by loitering,” according to the Associated Press. 

The National Day Laborer Organizing Network and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund represented the workers, who did not want to make their names public over immigration status concerns, according to United States District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall.

"This sends a strong message to municipalities that they can't eliminate the presence of day laborers in the street," said Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Labor Organizing Network. 

Freehold, New Jersey: CBS News reported that Hispanic immigrants received $278,000 in 2006 from the city in a class action lawsuit after the city closed a muster zone where laborers congregated to solicit work.

The borough council took action following growing tensions between residents and immigrants over overcrowding, public defecation and crime in the area that residents blamed on illegal immigrants.  Plaintiffs did not reveal their names to the press. 

Farmers Branch, Texas:  According to the Associated Press, U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay blocked a 2007 law passed by referendum in the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch that “requires managers to verify that renters are U.S. citizens or legal immigrants before leasing to them.”

A lawsuit is pending.  The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union allege the law is “unconstitutional” and “discriminatory” and that it would break up families. 

Is cracking down on illegal immigration, or simply requiring illegal immigrants to obey the law, ever constitutional?  Federal judges around the nation are beginning to raise doubts – and the media aren't holding them accountable.    

David Niedrauer is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.