New Law Prevents Cities from Turning Landlords Into Immigration Police

Jessie Mangaliman, San Jose (California) Mercury News, October 11, 2007

As cities across the country grapple with illegal immigration, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a new state law Wednesday that prohibits county and municipal governments in California from enacting local laws that would require landlords to ask a tenant’s immigration status.

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The bills’ sponsor, Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon, D-City of Industry, and leaders of a state association of apartment owners, hailed the new law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, as a civil rights victory.

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The Concerned Women for America, a Christian women’s group, opposed AB 976. In legislative documents, the group said that cities and municipalities are trying to use local ordinances to deal with illegal immigration “and prevent squalor that is dangerous not only to the individuals involved, but also to the surrounding neighborhoods where sanitation, parking and other troubles ensue.”

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The American Civil Liberties Union, labor unions, immigrant advocacy groups and landlord groups pushed for the bill, AB 976, after the city of Escondido passed an ordinance last year that prohibited landlords from renting to illegal immigrants, and imposed penalties when landlords failed to check on the immigration status of prospective tenants.

Civil rights groups successfully challenged the ordinance in federal court, arguing that it would lead to discrimination of immigrants seeking housing and turn landlords into immigration police.

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Such local ordinances put landlords “between a rock and a hard place,” said Ron Kingston, a lobbyist for the landlord group, Apartment Association of California Southern Cities.

“We needed to be assured that our landlords were not going to become de facto immigration police,” Kingston said. “We needed confirmation that our landlords and managers can receive information to determine the financial qualification and identity of tenants.”

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