A federal appeals court on Thursday struck down a Pennsylvania town's immigration ordinances as infringing on the federal government's right to control immigration rules, adding more fuel to the heated battle over how far states and localities can go in trying to push out illegal immigrants.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Hazleton, in northeastern Pennsylvania, cannot require landlords to check renters' immigration status, nor can it require businesses to use an electronic database to check whether potential employees are authorized to work.
The court, based in Philadelphia, said Hazleton's employment policy tries to enforce one part of federal law but ignores other things Congress took into consideration.
"Hazleton has placed a priority on deterring employment of unauthorized aliens, but failed to concern itself with the costs its ordinance imposes on employers and on work-authorized aliens," the three-judge panel wrote.
The decision conflicts with a ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld an Arizona law requiring businesses to use the electronic database, called E-Verify. The federal government considers E-Verify voluntary for most businesses, though it does require the system's use for federal contractors and subcontractors.
Having conflicting decisions from appeals courts increases the chances that the Supreme Court eventually will decide the cases.
State and local immigration rules have become a major battle point in immigration, with Arizona's law to require police to perform immigration checks being the latest, and most heated, flash point. The Obama administration sued to block that law, and a district judge in Phoenix has issued an injunction on many of the key provisions.
But for some time, states and localities have been trying to write regulations attempting to discourage the hiring of illegal immigrants. Hazleton, which adopted its ordinances four years ago, was one of the first.
"I'm not disillusioned by this ruling. We knew this would not be the last stop on this journey," said Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who is the Republican nominee for a seat in Congress.
Over the past 10 years, Hazleton saw an influx of Hispanic residents, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which joined in suing Hazleton, said the new rules were designed to push them back out of the town.
"Hazleton's discriminatory law decimated a town that used to be bustling with life and commerce," said Vic Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Hazleton tried to go further than just cracking down on employers by requiring landlords to check to see if their renters were in the country legally.
But the court on Thursday said that infringes on the federal government's constitutional power to determine who can reside in the country.
"It appears plain that the purpose of these housing provisions is to ensure that aliens lacking legal immigration status reside somewhere other than Hazleton," the panel said. "It is this power to effectively prohibit residency based on immigration status that is so clearly within the exclusive domain of the federal government."
The judges said federal law makes provisions for a long legal process for removing illegal immigrants and allows immigration judges and federal authorities the leeway to let them stay. None of those safeguards are present in the Hazleton rules.
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