JULY 26, 2007
The nation’s first federal trial to decide whether local governments can act to curb illegal immigration ended with a Clinton-appointed judge striking down a northeastern Pennsylvania city’s law as unconstitutional.
The nine-day bench trial began months ago and featured a face off between Latino rights groups and Hazleton Pennsylvania officials defending their right to rid their quaint little city of violent illegal immigrants in the wake of federal inaction.
The blocked law (Illegal Immigration Relief Act) was actually inspired by a pair of illegal immigrants who committed a violent shooting in Hazleton. The measure sought to impose fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and deny business permits to companies that give them jobs.
While drafting the legislation, fed up city officials provided crucial data that illustrated how illegal immigrants have overwhelmed the city’s police department with drugs, crime and gangs. Furthermore, city lawmakers said they had to take action because the federal government would not.
In his 206-page opinion, U.S. District Judge James Munley dismisses Hazleton’s frustrations over the dismal state of federal immigration enforcement and calls its ordinance unconstitutional because it conflicts with federal law.
He goes on the write that, 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.
Equally frustrated with inaction at the federal level, dozens of municipalities across the nation have created laws similar to Hazleton’s in the last year. This decision will undoubtedly have an effect on all of them. Perhaps the federal government will once and for all step up the plate on this issue.
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