Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Immigrant rental law put on hold

SAN DIEGO (AP) - A federal judge Thursday temporarily blocked Escondido from enforcing a law that punishes landlords for renting to illegal immigrants.
U.S. District Judge John Houston said he had serious questions about whether the law would survive legal scrutiny and said it may inflict ''irreparable harm'' on tenants and landlords.
The law was scheduled to take effect today in the city where Hispanics make up 42 percent of the 142,000 residents.
Houston did not say how long his order would last, but said he would schedule a hearing in the case within four months.
The lawsuit was filed earlier this month on behalf of two Escondido landlords and two women who live in the country illegally but whose children are U.S. citizens. The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleges that the law illegally punishes landlords for renting to illegal immigrants.
Landlord Roy Garrett welcomed the decision.
''(Illegal immigrants) are there, it's reality, it is immoral to force them to leave,'' Garrett said.
An attorney for the city declined to comment.
The City Council voted 3-2 last month to require landlords to submit documentation of their tenants' immigration status to the city, which would then verify that information with the federal government.
If tenants are found to be illegal immigrants, landlords would be given 10 days to evict them or face suspension of their business licenses. Repeat offenders could face misdemeanor charges and fines.
Last month, the ACLU persuaded a federal judge to temporarily block the city of Hazleton, Pa., from enforcing a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
The lawsuit alleges that the Escondido ordinance -- which is modeled on Hazleton's -- violates federal and state laws and puts landlords in an ''impossible position'' of enforcing immigration laws.
''The ordinance is riddled with constitutional flaws and ignores the subtleties, complexities and primacy of federal immigration law,'' according to the lawsuit.
The city argues that the law aims to alleviate the ''significant and costly burdens on society'' that are posed by illegal immigrants. Officials have said it would only be enforced on leases signed after it takes effect.
More than 50 municipalities nationwide have considered, passed or rejected laws to crack down on illegal immigration.
In Hazleton, a pair of measures approved by City Council would impose fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants, deny business permits to companies that give them jobs, and require tenants to register with City Hall and pay for a rental permit. A federal judge temporarily prohibited the laws from taking effect, saying they posed ''irreparable harm'' to landlords, tenants and businesses that cater to Hispanics.
This week, the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch adopted a measure that would require tenants to submit documentation to the landlord when making or renewing leases. That measure takes effect Jan. 12.