[JURIST] US District Judge James Munley [official profile] ruled Thursday that two anti-illegal immigration laws passed by the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania [official website; legal defense website] are unconstitutional, issuing a permanent injunction [memorandum and order, PDF; docket] prohibiting the enforcement of the Illegal Immigration Relief Act and the Landlord Tenant Ordinance [PDF texts], which were intended to make it more difficult for illegal immigrants to live or work in the town. Munley wrote:
The ordinances disrupt a well-established federal scheme for regulating the presence and employment of immigrants in the United States. They violate the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution and are unconstitutional. ...The court also found that the ordinances violated federal equal rights protections for a person's right to contract [42 USC Sec. 1981 text], ruling that the "City may not burden [illegal aliens'] right to contract more than that of other persons.
The Hazleton ordinances violate the procedural due process protections of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. They penalize landlords, tenants, employers and employees without providing them the procedural protections required by federal law, including notice and an opportunity to be heard. Our analysis applies to illegal aliens as well as to legal residents and citizens. The United States Constitution provides due process protections to all persons. ...
Whatever frustrations officials of 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 resident or not. The genius of our Constitution is that it provides rights even to those who evoke the least sympathy from the general public. In that way, all in this nation can be confident of equal justice under its laws. Hazleton, in its zeal to control the presence of a group deemed undesirable, violated the rights of such people, as well as others within the community. Since the United States Constitution protects even the disfavored, the ordinances cannot be enforced.
Hazleton [JURIST news archive] has the option of appealing to the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. In March, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta testified that the laws were an appropriate response to illegal immigration [JURIST report], saying that the city has suffered a 70 percent increase in instances of violent crime since 2001, which Barletta attributes to rising illegal immigration. AP has more.