An ordinance designed to penalize undocumented immigrants, under consideration by the Avon Park, Fla., city council, raises serious constitutional issues and will likely lead to protracted litigation.
The proposal would deny business permits to companies that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants and fine landlords who rent to them. It also would make English the town's official language, removing Spanish from all city documents and signs.
In a letter to council members today, Mary Bauer, director of the Center's Immigrant Justice Project, highlighted the Center's concerns with the proposed ordinance:
- The provision punishing individuals who "aid and abet" "illegal aliens" by hiring undocumented immigrants is pre-empted by federal law and exceeds the city's authority.
- The prohibition against renting to undocumented immigrants subjects both the city and local landlords to liability under the Fair Housing Act, which forbids discrimination in renting based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status or national origin.
- The ordinance will violate federal law banning discrimination in the making and enforcement of contracts.
- Its English-only requirements raise serious constitutional issues.
- The ordinance repeatedly uses the term "illegal alien" but fails to define the term, causing confusion for local landlords and business people who would have to determine an immigrant's legal status.
- The premises underlying the ordinance have absolutely no basis in fact.
"Not only is this ordinance bad policy, it would in all likelihood subject the town to protracted and expensive litigation that it would ultimately lose," Bauer said in her letter.
Avon Park Mayor Tom Macklin proposed the ordinance after learning of a similar measure in Hazleton, Pa. The council plans to vote on it July 24.
"We strongly urge Avon Park to reject this legally troubled and mean-spirited proposal," Bauer said.