23 September 2010

Federal Appeals Court Rejects Hazelton, PA's Effort to Restrict Immigration

By Kiran K. Patel, Associate Editor

          On September 9, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling striking down a local ordinance put in place by the City of Hazelton, Pennsylvania, that in part, prohibited illegal immigrants from renting property or being employed within the city.

          The local ordinance was passed in 2006 and had been held up in the state courts. However, in 2007 a federal district judge struck down the Hazelton ordinance, which specifically sought to punish landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and employers who hire them, ruling that immigration law is the authority of the federal government alone. Many other state and local governments have used the Hazelton, Pennsylvania immigration model to create their own laws. Among other powers this law provided, the local government could revoke business licenses from those employers who employed illegal aliens.

          As stated by one of the appeals judges, a real fear is that this law may heighten the possibility of employment discrimination. Specifically, this local ordinance “creates the exact situation that Congress feared: a system under which employers might quite rationally choose to err on the side of discriminating against job applicants who they perceive to be foreign.”

          The three-judge panel unanimously held that the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution bars the local city ordinance because it would conflict with the intricate set of immigration laws that govern immigration. “It is of course not our job to sit in judgment of whether state and local frustration about federal immigration policy is warranted,” the judges wrote. “We are, however, required to intervene when states and localities directly undermine the federal objectives embodied in statutes enacted by Congress.” Hazleton “has attempted to usurp authority the Constitution has placed beyond the vicissitudes of local governments,” the panel of three judges concluded.

"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 broader argument over immigration between states and the federal government has caused political tension not only within various localities, but also on a national level. Specifically, the passing of an immigration law enacted by the state of Arizona in 2010, known as SB 1070, contained a controversial feature authorizing local law enforcement to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws. In the same vein as the recent federal appeals court ruling in the Hazelton case, a judge blocked the law's most controversial provisions.

The current Mayor of Hazelton, Lou Barletta, whose aim in this local ordinance was to deter illegal immigration, has assured the public that the city will appeal the federal appeals court decision to the Supreme Court. “This ruling is a loss for Hazleton and its legal residents,” Mr. Barletta said. “It is also a blow to the rights of the legal immigrants who choose to call Hazleton their home.”

          "What's at stake ... is the right of local communities to govern how business and commerce are conducted within their jurisdictions," said Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "We are confident when the high court reviews the facts of this case, they will side with the right of local communities to take steps to protect themselves against the destructive impact of mass illegal immigration."

          The Hazleton battle is viewed by many as a crucial test of whether such ordinances can pass judicial review on the issue of constitutionality.

Source: http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202471886396

Kiran K. Patel is a second-year law student at Duquesne University School of Law.  He is an Associate Editor for Juris and a Junior Staff Writer on the Duquesne Business Law Journal.  He is a member of the Trial Advocacy team and a student mentor.  He is also a member of the American Bar Association, Pennsylvania Bar Association, Allegheny County Bar Association and the Bucks County Bar Association.  Kiran received his Bachelor of Science degree from Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania majoring in biology and sociology.  He can be reached at kiran.kanti.patel@gmail.com.