A coalition of Riverside business owners and landlords and residents will file a lawsuit today against the Township of Riverside in state court, contending that the recently adopted Illegal Immigration Relief Act oversteps the city's authority, is too vague, unfairly puts businesses at risk and violates civil rights under state law.
The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys from the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, People For the American Way Foundation, Spear Wilderman, P.C, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation Immigrants' Rights Project, American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey and Ragonese Albano & Viola.
The ordinance is one of the most restrictive of the recent wave of anti-immigrant legislation passed by local governments across the nation. It attempts to ban immigrants from renting, residing, using property or being employed in Riverside. The ordinance, in very broad terms, applies to actions that "aid or abet" undocumented immigrants anywhere in the United States.
"This ordinance is so vague and overbroad that it's virtually impossible to obey and appears to ban a large amount of innocent conduct," said Elliot Mincberg, Vice-President and Legal Director for PFAW Foundation. "Even a hospital or church that allows an immigrant on its premises could be charged with a violation."
Business owners and landlords decided to sue because they felt the law is difficult to comply with and exposes them to enormous risk. It could require them to take unreasonable and expensive measures and possibly invade the privacy of their clients in order to comply, all at great detriment to their businesses. They are also concerned that the divisive ordinance is fomenting ugly sentiments against immigrants, and destroying the community's business climate and its spirit of tolerance and cooperation.
"The ordinance almost authorizes a vigilante-type of attitude," said David Verduin, a Riverside business owner and a plaintiff. "Everyone lives in fear." He added, "Immigration is too complicated an issue for us to make a judgment on. Even federal agents need a court's help in deciding who is here illegally."
The ordinance is not currently being enforced, but has had a profound impact on the town, Verduin said. He estimated the ordinance has "scared off" about one-third of Riverside's immigrant population causing some businesses to close, while others have seen sales decline by as much as 50 percent.
"All this ordinance does is create tension and hatred between neighbors," said Cesar Perales, President and General Counsel of the PRLDEF. "The city will also face major litigation costs."
The lawsuit also explains that the ordinance goes far beyond the authority of Riverside under state law.
"State law simply does not permit Riverside to exclude immigrants from the Township," said James Katz of Spear Wilderman, P.C., who is cooperating counsel for the ACLU-NJ and ACLU-IRP in the case. "Nor can they regulate the rental or hiring decisions of Riverside businesses and landlords."
The lawsuit is being filed today with the Superior Court of New Jersey, Burlington County. The case is captioned Riverside Coalition of Business Persons, et al. v. Township of Riverside.
In support of this lawsuit, New Jersey Appleseed and Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice will file an amicus brief on behalf of the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey and a broad coalition of non-profit organizations working with immigrants.