Civil liberties group says ordinance that undermines families and targets minorities has drawn widespread opposition
The ACLU of Virginia today announced that it has approved mounting a legal challenge to a City of Manassas ordinance that prevents aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, great-grandparents, or great-grandchildren from living together as family unit.
Manassas city officials have stated that the purpose of the ordinance is to cut back on illegal immigrants, but the ACLU says that the ordinance is an unconstitutional government infringement on the right of family members to live together and that it is being used to target families based on their nationality.
According to the ACLU of Virginia, many other organizations have expressed outrage over the ordinance. The Virginia civil liberties organization expects to work with other groups, both local and national, to eliminate the ordinance.
“No one is saying that Manassas can’t reasonably regulate the number of people living together for health and safety purposes,” said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis, “but the government has no right to tell me that my aunt or nephew can’t live under the same roof with me.”
“This is not only a frontal attack on families in general, but more particularly on minority families,” added Willis. “Under the pretext of fighting illegal immigrants, the City of Manassas has declared war on its Latino population, for that is who is bearing the brunt of this ordinance.”
Under the Manassas ordinance, a “family” is: “Two or more persons related to the second degree of collateral consanguinity by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship….living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit, exclusive of not more than one additional nonrelated person.”
In short, parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, and siblings can live under the same roof, but aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, great-grandparents, or great-grandchildren are not considered “family,” and no more than one of them may live together.
In 1977 in the case of Moore v. City of East Cleveland, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a similar ordinance. That ordinance permitted only the parents and children of the head of household, and one dependent child of the head of the household and the spouse and dependent children of that dependent child. The Court held that the restrictive definition of “family” violated the substantive due process clause, noting that the protection of family relationships extended beyond the nuclear family. Writing for a plurality of four justices, Justice Lewis Powell, Jr. wrote: “The tradition of uncles, aunts, cousins, and especially grandparents sharing a household along with parents and children has roots equally venerable and equally deserving of constitutional recognition.”
Contacts for ACLU of Virginia: Kent Willis, Executive Director, or Rebecca K. Glenberg, Legal Director, 804/644-8080