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Federal appeals court rejects Pennsylvania city illegal immigration laws

The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that two ordinances passed by the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania [official website; legal defense website] making it more difficult for illegal immigrants [JURIST news archive] to live or work in the town are unconstitutional. The court found that the Illegal Immigration Relief Act (IIRAO) and Landlord Tenant Ordinance (RO) [texts, PDF] improperly infringe on the federal government's exclusive domain over immigration law, saying that it is "required to intervene when states and localities directly undermine the federal objectives embodied in statutes enacted by Congress." The employment provisions of the IIRAO conflict with the Immigration Reform & Control Act of 1986 [text] and the "careful balance" it strikes between deterring the employment of illegal aliens, minimizing the burden on employers and discouraging discrimination against individuals "perceived as 'foreign.'" The court also ruled that the city exceeded its authority by attempting to "regulate residence based solely on immigration status." Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta stated [press release] that the city will appeal the decision, while the American Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] called the ruling [press release] "a major defeat for the misguided, divisive and expensive anti-immigrant strategy that Hazleton has tried to export to the rest of the country."

The ordinances were originally struck down [JURIST report] in 2007 by the US District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania [official website]. Barletta previously testified [JURIST report] that the laws were an appropriate response to illegal immigration and attributed a 70 percent increase in violent crime in the city since 2001 to rising illegal immigration. A federal judge ruled [JURIST report] last month that the Nebraska Supreme Court [official website] should be the first forum to hear challenges to a similar ordinance adopted by the city of Fremont. Also in August, Arizona filed its opening brief [JURIST report] in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] asking the court to lift the preliminary injunction blocking the state's controversial immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive] from taking full effect.

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