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Judge overturns Hazelton anti-immigrant law

Back in June, I noted that a ruling in a lawsuit against the city of Hazelton, PA over anti-immigrant ordinances was expected this summer. That ruling came down yesterday, and it’s a win for the plaintiffs and a loss for places like Farmers Branch.

A federal judge’s decision Thursday to rule unconstitutional a landmark municipal law that cracks down on illegal immigrants could set a precedent for similar ordinances proposed in dozens of cities throughout the country.

Advocates for illegal immigrants hailed the ruling against a law in Hazleton, Pa., as a victory and powerful reminder that immigration is a federal issue Congress must ultimately deal with by passing comprehensive reform. But supporters of stricter immigration enforcement said the local ordinances have not been defeated and will eventually make their way to the Supreme Court.

Both sides have said the ruling highlights the federal government’s inaction on immigration.

“I think this ruling is a win for common sense,” said Jose Luis Jimenez Jr., Houston district director for the League of United Latin American Citizens. “Hopefully, other elected officials and other city councils and boards heed the warning not to try to do something that is not their responsibility.”

In a strongly worded ruling, U.S. District Judge James Munley said the ordinance was pre-empted by federal law and violated due process protections in the Constitution.

Munley wrote in his opinion that “in its zeal to control the presence of a group deemed undesirable,” Hazleton violated the rights of those people and others.

“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.

“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 or not,” the judge added.

Good. And keep that phrase “the city could not enact an ordinance that violates rights the Constitution guarantees to every person in the United States, whether legal or not” in mind when you hear folks from Farmers Branch talk about “the will of the people”. If a law does something illegal or unconstitutional, it will be thrown out, no matter how it was enacted in the first place.

Under the law, passed last summer, landlords would be fined for renting to illegal immigrants and businesses would be denied permits for hiring them. Tenants would have been required to prove they are legal residents and pay for a rental permit. Hazleton is expected to appeal the ruling.

Fine by me. Let’s settle this once and for all.

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One Comment

  1. Norm says:

    “…the city could not enact an ordinance that violates rights the Constitution guarantees to every person in the United States.”

    Except that several communities, right here in the Houston metro area, have done exactly that. And our state AG (a Republican who intends to have a future in Texas politics) sees nothing wrong wtih it.

    Cities have no constitutional authority to regulate where categories of citizens can reside – except when they pass such laws and no one stops them.