July 20, 2006

Pa. town went too far with immigration law-report

By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Pennsylvania town may have
overstepped its authority in passing a tough law designed to
curb illegal immigration, a Congressional agency said in a
report made public on Thursday.

The non-partisan Congressional Research Service, which
gathers facts for Congress, said Hazleton in northeast
Pennsylvania appears to have intruded into an area covered by
federal law with its Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance,
passed by the city council last week.

The town's solicitor defended the ordinance, which would
penalize firms that hire illegal immigrants and fine landlords
who rent to them, saying it did not conflict with federal law.

In response to an influx of Hispanic immigrants, who now
make up about a third of the town's 31,000 population, the law
also establishes English as the official language.

But the congressional agency, whose report was requested by
Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. Paul Kanjorski, said the ordinance
creates immigration rules that are independent of federal law
and so is vulnerable to legal challenge.

"Such a regime would very likely be found by a reviewing
court to be pre-empted in whole or in part by federal
immigration laws," the report said.

It also said the town might be vulnerable in court if it is
proven that in denying housing or a job to an immigrant it has
discriminated on the basis of national origin rather than

The ordinance is seen as one of the toughest in the country
and has propelled Hazleton to the forefront of a national
debate over illegal immigration.

Republican Mayor Lou Barletta, who introduced the measure,
said he has received more than 8,000 e-mails in support from
people across America.

Cesar Perales, president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense
and Education Fund, which plans along with the American Civil
Liberties Union to sue Hazleton over the law, said the agency's
report should serve as a warning to other towns that may be
considering similar measures.

"They are on notice that this is illegal," he said. "Any
local governments that have been rushing to pass similar laws
should carefully weigh what they are doing because they are
going to get sued."

Hazleton City solicitor Chris Slusser argued that the
report, which was written on June 29, appears to have been
written before the ordinance was finalized, and that it
comments on penalizing illegal aliens themselves, which the
measure does not propose.

Slusser said the ordinance does not violate the Supremacy
Clause of the U.S. Constitution which establishes federal laws
as the supreme law of the land.

"I believe what the ordinance contains in no way infringes
on federal law," he said.