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Judge strikes down Hazleton’s illegal immigrant law

A federal judge on Thursday struck down the city of Hazleton’s
tough crackdown on illegal immigrants, ruling unconstitutional a law that has
been emulated by towns and cities around the nation.

The Illegal Immigration Relief Act, pushed by the city’s Republican
mayor last summer after two illegal immigrants were charged in a fatal
shooting, was voided by U.S. District Judge James Munley following a nine-day
trial in March.

“This decision should be a blaring red stoplight for
local officials thinking of copying Hazleton’s
misguided and unconstitutional law,” said Witold J. Walczak, legal
director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which
represented the plaintiffs.

Mayor Lou Barletta called the decision bizarre and said he
intends to file an appeal.

“This was a case where a federal judge protected the
rights of anonymous illegal aliens,” he told The Associated Press in a
phone interview. “This fight’s far from over.”

Hazleton had
sought to impose fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and deny
business permits to companies that give them jobs. A companion measure would
have required tenants to register with City Hall and pay for a rental permit.

Barletta, chief
proponent of the crackdown, contends illegal immigrants have brought drugs,
crime and gangs to the city of more than 30,000, overwhelming police, schools
and hospitals.

Hispanic groups and illegal immigrants sued in federal court
to overturn the measures, saying they usurp the federal government’s exclusive
power to regulate immigration, deprive residents of their constitutional rights
to equal protection and due process, and violate state and federal housing law.

In a 206-page opinion, Munley said the act was pre-empted by
federal law and violated the plaintiffs’ due process rights.

“Whatever frustrations … the city of Hazleton
may feel about the current 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,” Munley wrote.

“Even 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,” he added.

Hazleton’s act
was copied by dozens of municipalities around the nation that believe the
federal government hasn’t done enough to stop illegal immigration. Munley’s
ruling does not affect those measures.

The city’s lawyer, Kris Kobach, said there were “very
serious errors” in the decision and predicted it would be overturned on

Hispanic immigrants began settling in large numbers in Hazleton
several years ago, lured from New York,
Philadelphia and other cities by
cheap housing, low crime and the availability of work in nearby factories and
farms. The city, situated 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia,
estimates its population increased by more than 10,000 between 2000 and 2006.

Testimony during the trial pegged the city’s illegal
immigrant population at between 1,500 and 3,400.

On the Net:

ACLU of Pennsylvania:

Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund:

City of Hazleton:

Hazleton’s legal
defense site:

– Associated Press

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A New Track: Fostering Diversity and Equity in Athletics