MARCH 12, 2007
Officials of a small northeastern city and a Latino rights group will face off beginning today in the nation’s first federal trial to decide whether local governments can act to curb illegal immigration.
The bench trial, which is expected to last about two weeks, will feature officials of Hazelton, Pennsylvania, against a group that claims to promote justice for all Latinos, the Puerto Rican Defense and Education Fund.
At issue is whether city officials have the right to create and enforce laws to curb illegal immigration, which is traditionally the federal government’s job. Hazelton lawmakers were so frustrated at the federal government’s inaction, however, that they started a national trend by creating their own legislation to rid the quaint little city of violent crimes committed by illegal immigrants.
The city’s fed up lawmakers took the step after a number of high-profile violent crimes were committed by illegal immigrants, including two illegals from the Dominican Republic who fatally shot a 29-year-old man and a teenaged boy arrested for firing a gun at a playground. Hazelton officials said nearly 50 crimes had been committed by illegal immigrants in the few months before the ordinance passed and that one-third of all drug arrests in 2005 involved illegal immigrants. Additionally, an influx of illegal immigrants has heavily burdened the city’s health care and school system.
So the city created the Illegal Immigration Relief Act which imposes fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and denies business permits to companies that employ them. Immigrant advocates immediately took legal action, claiming that the new law is unconstitutional.
The president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund actually said that "the Latino community of Hazelton and throughout the country see these kinds of laws as a direct threat to their civil rights." Evidently, the United States Chamber of Commerce agrees because it, not only filed a friend-of-the-court (amicus) brief in support of the illegal immigrants, it is waving a Mexican flag in a show of support during the trial period. (Judicial Watch filed an amicus brief with the court arguing the constitutionality of the law.)
One Pennsylvania editorial says the chamber is showing its true colors – the colors of the Mexican flag.
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