Court orders new look at Pa. city immigration law

AP News
Posted: Jun 06, 2011 5:48 PM
Court orders new look at Pa. city immigration law

A Pennsylvania city will get another chance to defend its never-enforced illegal immigration law after the Supreme Court on Monday ordered a federal appeals court to reconsider the case.

Citing their recent decision upholding an Arizona employer-sanctions law, the justices threw out a ruling by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that prevented the city of Hazleton from enforcing regulations that would deny permits to business that hire illegal immigrants and fine landlords who rent to them.

Hazleton's Illegal Immigration Relief Act inspired similar laws around the country, including the one in Arizona. Both measures were authored by the same scholar, Kris Kobach, currently Kansas' secretary of state.

"Hazleton has paved the way for other cities and states across the country to enact similar laws, so this is a great day for all of those cities and states, and for the people of Hazleton who had to endure criticism from those who opposed what we were trying to do because the federal government didn't want do its job," said U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, Hazleton's former mayor, who pushed through the measures in 2006.

Hazleton, a northeastern Pennsylvania city of about 25,000, wants to fine landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and deny business permits to companies that give them jobs. A companion measure requires prospective tenants to register with City Hall and pay for a rental permit.

Barletta advocated for the measures after two illegal immigrants were charged in a fatal shooting. Barletta, now a freshman congressman, argued that illegal immigrants brought drugs, crime and gangs to the city and overwhelmed police, schools and hospitals.

The laws have never been enforced. Hispanic groups and illegal immigrants sued to overturn the measures, and a federal judge struck them down following a trial in 2007.

Monday's order does not automatically mean that Hazleton will get to enforce the measures.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd Circuit ruled in September that Hazleton's laws usurped the federal government's exclusive power to regulate immigration.

But the appeals court did not consider two other arguments raised by opponents of the Hazleton crackdown: that it violated federal due process rights as well as state law. It will now be free to do so, said Witold Walczack, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.

"Any celebration by the Hazleton officials would be premature," he said Monday. "We're certainly not putting up the white flag. There's much battle left to be done in this case."

Peter Spiro, a professor at Temple University's law school, predicted that opponents of the law will have a tough time convincing the appeals court in light of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Arizona case.

"The clear message is they are going to tolerate some level of state and local participation in immigration enforcement," he said.