Civil Rights Clinic Wins Immigration Case

Faculty and students in the School of Law’s Civil Rights & Community Justice Clinic won an important victory of national significance in their fight against the City of Valley Parks’ ordinances aimed at immigrants. Working with several local and national organizations, the clinic is representing a group of landlords, business owners, and a fair housing agency. In a ruling on March 12, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Barbara Wallace voided  two ordinances enacted by Valley Park that forbid employers to hire and landlords to rent property to “illegal aliens.”  

Plaintiffs alleged that Valley Park’s ordinances promoted discrimination and racial profiling, and subjected landlords and businesses to penalties that state law does not allow. They also argued that immigration law is a matter for Congress. The court sided with plaintiffs in holding that the ordinances are “void in their entirety” in that the ordinances passed by Valley Park exceed the power delegated to a fourth-class municipality and conflict with Missouri landlord tenant law.

 “Anti-immigration ordinances, like Valley Park’s, are fueled by a mixture of misinformation and fear; they breed discrimination and racial profiling,” said Karen Tokarz, professor of law and director of Clinical Education and ADR Programs. “Judge Wallace is 100 percent correct in her ruling. The anti-immigration ordinances enacted by Valley Park are clearly illegal under Missouri state law.”

Challenges to similar ordinaces in other states include one in Hazleton, Pennsylvania that is currently in trial.

A group of private lawyers, law school clinics, and civil rights organizations are representing the plaintiffs in the Valley Park action. Tokarz and Professor Margo Schlanger are among the counsel of record. Other partners in the case include Bryan Cave LLP (Pro Bono Committee), the Saint Louis University Legal Clinic, the Catholic Legal Assistance Ministry, Jesus Ituarte at Schulte and Ituarte LLC, Anthony B. Ramirez at Anthony B. Ramirez PC, Fernando Bermudez at Green Jacobson & Butsch PC, the American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation Immigrants Rights Project.