Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Anti-Immigrant Movement's Legal Arm

How are law and policy made? A look at the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) is instructive on both counts. The institute is the legal branch of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the oldest restrictionist institute in Washington, DC. FAIR’s president Dan Stein previously was executive director of the Immigration Reform Law Institute. ILRI made national news recently with its anti-racketeering lawsuit filed against a property-management company that leases apartments to illegal immigrants. Also this week a story in the Los Angeles Times took note of the institute’s role in shaping anti-immigrant bills that are being passed by a bevy of state legislatures. IRLI says it “seeks to defend the rule of law.” It does this through lawsuits that seek to add an anti-immigrant bias to current laws and by encouraging state governments to institute new anti-immigrant laws. IRLI boasts that it is “America's only public interest law organization working exclusively to protect the legal rights, privileges, and property of U.S. citizens and their communities from injuries and damages caused by unlawful immigration.” It contends that the “injuries caused by illegal aliens in your community have become a growing crisis in communities nationwide.” The new federal lawsuit filed by ILRI challenges the right of landlords to rent to illegal immigrants. In the suit against a Connolly Properties in Plainfield, NJ, the institute seeks to establish a legal precedent that cities can use to punish landlords who have undocumented tenants. ILRI contends that the company’s practice of leasing to illegal immigrants is tantamount to unlawful harboring and should be considering a criminal enterprise – thus the use of federal racketeering law. ILRI has previously worked with town officials in Hazelton, Pa. and Riverside, N.J. to support ordinances that aimed to penalize landlords who rented to illegal immigrants. A judged ruled the Hazelton ordinance unconstitutional, and Riverside officials rescinded the ordinance. Michael Hethmon, IRLI’s general counsel and director, said his group decided to take the case as part of its strategy of “attrition through enforcement,” or urging illegal immigrants to leave the country by making it more difficult for them to find employment and housing. “We have felt for a long time that the racketeering statute would be useful in dealing with situations where businesses and commercial enterprises were heavily involved with illegal immigration,” Mr. Hethmon said. “We’ve also felt that individual citizens, communities, neighborhoods and law-abiding small businesses have always needed tools with which they can defend themselves against the harmful effects of illegal immigration.” Outside the courtroom ILRI is working with a growing number of state governments in designing anti-immigrant laws that hold up to legal challenges. “Since 2001, state and local governments have played a growing role in the struggle of American citizens against illegal immigration,” ILRI explains. “IRLI lawyers have specialized expertise in the development and drafting of immigration enforcement and relief measures being considered by state legislatures and local governments.” In the last year and a half, ILRI has assisted Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia and other states in shaping anti-immigrant measures. “We see this state and local activity as not only effective in itself . . . but there's also the long effect as, one by one, these states line up," Hethmon said. "As these jurisdictions confront this issue, it builds up a positive and helpful kind of pressure on Congress."

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