Court remands Hazleton immigration law

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — The Supreme Court ordered a federal appeals court on Monday to take a new look at a Pennsylvania city’s crackdown on illegal immigrants in light of its own recent decision upholding an Arizona employer-sanctions law.

The high court 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 that deals only with penalties for employers.

“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.

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 against the law, and 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.”

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.

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