Court Blocks Hazleton's Anti-Immigrant Law

A federal court upheld a ruling that stopped the city of Hazleton, PA from enacting most of the provisions in an anti-immigration law that targeted a growing population of Latinos in the town.


The law was a model for several other cities that had planned on enacting similar laws. The decision deals a blow to regulations that inspired copycat measures around the nation, including Arizona.

The decision deals another blow to anti-immigrant advocates of local and state immigration ordinances such as Arizona's, as it explicitly reaffirms that regulation of immigration is exclusively the domain of the federal government.

"The Latino plaintiffs who brought this lawsuit knew this law was intended to drive them out of Hazleton," said Cesar Perales, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. "The Court clearly recognized this danger. Localities have no business taking over immigration policy from the federal government. They might not like what the federal government is or is not doing, but that does not give them the right to establish their own immigration policies."

In 2006, the northeastern Pennsylvania city passed an ordinance that sought to deny business permits to companies that employ illegal immigrants, fine landlords who rent to them and require legal tenants to register and pay for a rental permit.

After a trial where evidence pointed to a mayor bent on promoting a racial divisiveness in his city, a federal judge in 2007 struck down most of the ordinance. Federal District Court Judge James M. Munley found that the "Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance" unlawfully attempted to regulate the country's immigration policies, violated procedural due process protections under the U.S. Constitution to persons charged or threatened with penalties and loss of licenses, and based on faulty and unproven assumptions about the effects of immigrants living in Hazleton.

The city appealed, but the decision was mostly upheld on Thursday, with the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirming that Hazleton’s attempt to regulate immigration through its own employment and housing ordinances violated the supremacy clause of the constitution. In particular, the court found that the failure of the town's employment ordinance to include anti-discrimination provisions violated the protections enshrined in federal law. Further, the Court of Appeals ruled that Hazleton’s attempt to prohibit landlords from renting homes to undocumented immigrants conflicted impermissibly with the immigration and nationality act, noting that congress "has never evidenced an intent for [undocumented immigrants] to go homeless."

The challenge was led by LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Community Justice Project and the law firm of Cozen O'Connor. The case garnered support from unlikely allies such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops.

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LatinoJustice PRLDEF, established in 1972, has won landmark civil rights cases in education, housing, voting, migrant, immigrant, employment and other civil rights. PRLDEF has fought for the right of non-English speaking students to get a good education, against housing discrimination in city-owned apartments, and to open up employment opportunities for all citizens.

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