Federal Court Again Stops Hazleton’s Anti-Immigrant Law


CONTACT: John Garcia, Director of Communications, 212-739-7513, 917-673-9095 or jgarcia@latinojustice.org.

Another federal court has found that the City of Hazleton’s anti-immigrant ordinance is unconstitutional and is pre-empted by federal immigration law. Several courts had already stopped Hazleton, in Pennsylvania, from enacting most of the provisions in an anti-immigration law that targeted a growing population of Latinos in the town.

This latest defeat comes on the heels of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that declared an Arizona law with similar provision to be unconstitutional and pre-empted by federal law. Last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that another ordinance with similar measures in the Texas town of Farmer’s Branch was unconstitutional because it infringed upon federal government duties.

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

The challenge to the Hazleton ordinance 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.

"Hazleton was the first locality or state to try to drive Latinos out, and the courts have repeatedly slapped down its effort,” said Juan Cartagena, President and General Counsel, LatinoJustice PRLDEF. "All of the courts have said the same thing: immigration is the purview of the federal government. It’s time for Hazelton – and other municipalities and states – to stop trying to harass Latino immigrants out of existence. Let’s leave decisions about global markets and transnational labor forces to the federal government.”

Hazleton’s 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.

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 by 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.

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