Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hazleton's Anti-immigrant Laws

Remember last year when Hazleton, Pennsylvania made the news nearly every day? You may recall that their mayor, Lou Barletta became an innovator in the practice of anti-immigrant ordinances and anti-immigrant sentiment when he and his Town Council passed a series of laws aimed at pushing undocumented people out of the town by making it illegal for landlords to rent to anyone without checking their immigration status, declaring English as the official language, and penalizing employers who hire undocumented workers.

You may also recall my blog post from last August about Hazleton's growth since immigrants discovered the town. Hazlteon is a former coal mining community, like many of its neighbors in Pennsylvania, it had been dying a slow death as it's younger generation left seeking decent employment and a better future elsewhere. Far from destroying the community, immigrants had revitalized the town. Like the Italians who settled there nearly 100 years before, the Latinos where giving Hazleton a chance for growth, and a future.

Unfortunately, Mr. Barletta doesn't see it that way, and like the 100 other municipalities in 27 states that have followed his lead and passed a variety of ordinances that are aimed at moving the undocumented (and perhaps the legal permanent Latino residents as well) out of these communities.

The Washington Post article linked above provides the following run-down on how these ordinances have been challenged:

Opponents of the crackdowns have fought back, mounting a half-dozen legal challenges _ all successful _ in Hazleton and places like Valley Park, Mo., and Farmers Branch, Texas. None of those municipalities is enforcing its law.

In some of the cases, state and federal judges have blocked the laws. In the others, the towns themselves have backed down, unwilling or unable to mount expensive legal battles.

After a federal judge blocked Escondido, Calif., from fining landlords who rent to illegal immigrants, the city council killed the measure and agreed to pay $90,000 to the opposing lawyers.

In the Valley Park case, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Barbara Wallace issued a restraining order and said there were "big holes" in the city's ordinance, which would target businesses and landlords.

The American Civil Liberties Union argues the measures trample on the federal government's exclusive power to regulate immigration. In issuing a temporary restraining order against Hazleton on Oct. 31, U.S. District Judge James Munley said there was a "reasonable probability" its package of laws would be declared unconstitutional.

Although most of the jurisdictions that have passed these laws have been challenged in court, it is expected that more communities will pass these laws in response to the inaction from the federal government. Even though the laws in communities that are facing legal challenges have yet to be enforced many Latinos, undocumented or legal, have already left. Latino business districts in Hazleton, Farmers Branch and Riverside, N.J., all report steep declines.

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