Hazleton Immigration Decision

Posted: Jul 26, 2007 12:00 AM

Orignally appeared on ImWithFred.com

Most Americans want something to be done about the illegal immigration problem we have in this country. They’ve been expecting the federal government to enforce the immigration laws already on the books. The federal government hasn’t done that, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the governments closest to the people – municipal and state – are looking to take action. This is an entirely proper role for these governments.

Back in 2006, the citizens of Hazleton, Penn., were noticing some troubling signs from an increase in illegal immigration in their community. This former coal-mining town was seeing an uptick in the number of murders, an increase in drug-related crimes and a school district bursting at its seams. In fact the tax-payer-funded English as a Second Language program there went from $500 a year in costs in 2001 to more than $1 million a year today.

The citizen of Hazleton demanded that something be done, and the Illegal Immigration Relief Act was introduced by the mayor and supported by the city by a vote of 4 to 1.

The ordinance was designed to reduce crime, the increasingly overcrowded schools, rising hospital costs, and escalating demand for city services that Hazleton was seeing due to an influx of illegal immigrants. The law would Deny licenses to businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants; Fine landlords $1,000 for each illegal immigrant discovered renting their properties; Require city documents to be in English only.

Let’s be clear about what’s going on here. No matter what some groups may be trying to do to muddy the water and portray Hazleton’s law as something playing to an uglier agenda, this law is not about legal immigration. This law is about dealing with the illegal immigration problem. The town’s mayor and city officials made this clear from the beginning, and it seems like they took a common sense approach.

But not to the American Civil Liberties Union which filed a lawsuit to block the law, or a federal judge in Pennsylvania, who overturned the law today.

The Hazleton ruling is an interesting one. The court made two basic conclusions. It found that the ordinance violated the due process clause of the Constitution and that the city lacked the authority to enact the law because Congress had “preempted” the field. Under the Constitution, when federal and state laws conflict, the federal law takes precedence, so long as it was within the power of Congress to enact the federal law in the first place.

So what the court said in this decision is that Congress has passed laws that preempt the field of immigration. As a result, state and local governments cannot enact laws to control illegal immigration or even the effects of illegal immigration.

Think about what this ruling means. Congress has preempted the field, so state and local governments are powerless to act. Then, Congress and the federal authorities do next-to-nothing to prevent illegal immigration, burdening the states and local communities around the country. But those communities cannot act because Congress said they couldn’t. What sense does that make?

None. Congress could not have meant to prevent state and local governments from exercising their traditional police and regulatory powers over businesses and landlords to address the problems caused by uncontrolled illegal immigration.

No doubt, this ruling will be appealed. And it should be.

Our constitutional system allows our citizens to take reasonable steps to protect their communities. This is exactly what Hazleton is trying to do. And it’s what other communities across the country are doing. According to news reports, measures similar to Hazleton’s are being considered elsewhere around the country.

When the federal government is unwilling to enforce immigration laws effectively, then cities need to be able to act, and to take reasonable steps to secure their citizens from the social, financial, and criminal costs of illegal immigration.