Last week the Third Circuit Court of Appeals told the town of Hazleton, Pa. that it's on the hook for at least $2.4 million in plaintiffs' legal fees from a lawsuit brought against it after officials there passed a law to try to bar undocumented immigrants from living in the town.
The ruling affirmed a lower court's decision that the town could not pass off plaintiffs' legal fees to their insurance company after the law, the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, was ruled unconstitutional in September in a separate ruling.
That ruling affirmed an original 2007 district court decision by Judge James Munley. Both courts said that by trying to bar immigrants from renting or owning property in town, Hazleton was overstepping its bounds and enforcing federal law that it did not have the authority to create or enforce.
According to federal law, plaintiffs who win on civil rights complaints can ask the defendant to pay their legal fees. Hazleton had been led on its anti-immigrant crusade by Kris Kobach, who had helped craft the bill and represented the town in defending the law. Along with Kobach, Lou Barletta also took up the charge, and he's now headed to D.C. after winning a seat in the House last week. Last week, Kobach, who also helped author Arizona's SB 1070, became Kansas' new Secretary of State. Meanwhile, the town has nearly gutted its $430,000 legal defense set up to defend the bill.
The town of 22,000 saw its immigrant population jump from 3.7 percent to 14 percent from 2000 to 2007, which according to a new report from the Migration Policy Institute might have activated its anxieties about the town's changing demographics. Hazleton was one of seventeen other cities that passed anti-immigration laws between 2000 and 2009 prohibiting undocumented immigrants from renting property. Many towns that passed anti-immigrant bills did so after witnessing an appreciable jump in their immigrant populations.
But Hazleton's not going to stop now, looming debt be damned. The town may be suffering, but Barletta has vowed to appeal the appellate court's September ruling to the Supreme Court. Kobach, at least, is getting quite rich.