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Federal Court Strikes Down PA Illegal Immigration Law


In a ruling viewed as a setback to similar measures in cities and states nationwide, a federal court has struck down Hazleton, Pennsylvania’s “Illegal Immigration Relief Act,” a 2006 law that fined landlords who rented to undocumented persons and revoked the business permits of employers who hired them. About a third of Hazleton’s estimated 21,100 to 30,000 residents are from Central America, up from about five percent in 2000, and up to a quarter of those may be undocumented, according to some estimates.

Ruling that the local law is preempted by federal immigration law, U.S. District Judge James M. Munley noted that “[a]llowing states or local governments to legislate with regard to the employment of unauthorized aliens would interfere with congressional objectives.” Judge Munley further opined that “[e]ven if federal law did not conflict with Hazleton’s measures, the City could not enact an ordinance that violates rights the Constitution guarantees to every person in the United States, whether legal resident or not. The genius of our Constitution is that it provides rights even to those who evoke the least sympathy from the general public.” He noted that “[w]hatever frustrations officials of the city of Hazleton may feel about the present state of federal immigration enforcement, the nature of the political system in the United States prohibits the city from enacting ordinances that disrupt a carefully drawn federal statutory scheme.”

The ruling was welcomed by immigrant advocates and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Today’s decision sends an unmistakable message to local officials across the nation that these types of ordinances are a waste of taxpayers’ money, anathema to American values and a violation of the Constitution,” said Omar Jadwat of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s National Chamber Litigation Center released a statement noting that “[s]tate and local governments have no business setting national immigrant policy.” The fight is not over yet, however. Bob Dane, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said, “We are planning to join with the mayor and appeal” the ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The National Conference of State Legislatures estimated that in just the first four months of 2007, states have introduced more than 1,100 bills and resolutions related to immigration. The total last year was 570 bills. In June, Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled that Colorado’s controversial measure to prevent undocumented persons from receiving some government services violated a state constitutional requirement that initiatives address a single subject. Immigration is expected to continue to factor in elections in that state. Meanwhile, Georgia and Arizona are requiring employers to participate in the Basic Pilot work authorization verification program. Beaufort County, South Carolina, plans a mass audit of businesses’ immigration records.

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Ivener & Fullmer LLP, a nationally recognized law firm, has successfully assisted hundreds of clients in immigration matters.

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