Hazleton, Pa.’s Anti-Immigrant Ordinance Ruled Unconstitutional

The Third Circuit pushed back on the individual towns that have tried to create their own immigration law.

By Julianne Hing Sep 10, 2010

On Thursday a federal appeals court ruled that a pair of anti-immigrant laws passed by a small Pennsylvania town were unconstitutional. Hazleton, Pennsylvania’s 2006 laws forbade undocumented immigrants from working, renting or owning property in the town. Thursday’s unanimous decision upheld a 2007 decision by district court that also found Hazleton’s anti-immigrant laws unconstitutional.

The town rose to prominence after Hazleton mayor Lou Barletta proposed the laws and threw his town into what’s become a four-year legal battle. Hazleton’s bills became models for other towns like Valley Park, Missouri, and Farmers Branch, Texas that have since passed similar legislation.

The Third Circuit pushed back on the individual towns that have tried to create their own immigration laws: "It is, of course, not our job to sit in judgment of whether state and local frustration about federal immigration policy is warranted," the court ruled. "We are, however, required to intervene when states and localities directly undermine the federal objectives embodied in statues enacted by Congress."

"Today’s decision by the Third Circuit Court is not unexpected," Barletta, who is mounting a third attempt to win a seat in Congress, said in a statement. "I’m not disillusioned by this ruling. We knew this would not be the last stop on this journey."

"Divisive laws like these destroy communities and distract from the very real problems that local governments are facing across the country," Vic Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. "Immigration reform needs to come from the federal level. Local ordinances like these have a toxic effect on the community, injecting suspicion and discriminatory attitudes where they didn’t previously exist."

The ACLU challenged Hazleton on similar legal arguments that civil rights groups and the federal government are using to challenge Arizona’s anti-immigrant SB 1070: that only the federal government has the right to create and enforce immigration policy.

This year a federal court also struck down a similar law in Farmers Branch, Texas, as unconstitutional.

For Hazleton, the story doesn’t end here. Kris Kobach, Hazleton’s attorney and a primary architect of SB 1070, promised to appeal the ruling and said that they will take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary.