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Court halts immigrant crackdown in Pennsylvania

Mayor vows fight to Supreme Court

HAZLETON, Pa. – A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that Hazleton, Pa., may not enforce its crackdown on illegal immigrants, dealing another blow to 4-year-old regulations that inspired similar measures around the country. The city’s mayor pledged to take the case to the Supreme Court.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia said that Hazleton’s Illegal Immigration Relief Act usurped the federal government’s exclusive power to regulate immigration.

“It is … not our job to sit in judgment of whether state and local frustration about federal immigration policy is warranted. We are, however, required to intervene when states and localities directly undermine the federal objectives embodied in statutes enacted by Congress,” wrote Chief Judge Theodore McKee.

Appeals courts are split on whether states and municipalities have the right to enforce laws dealing with immigration. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments over a 2007 Arizona law that prohibits employers from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants.

Hazleton, a northeastern Pennsylvania city of more than 30,000, had sought to fine landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and deny business permits to companies that give them jobs.

Mayor Lou Barletta had pushed the measures in 2006 after two illegal immigrants were charged in a fatal shooting. The Republican mayor, now mounting his third try for Congress, argued that illegal immigrants brought drugs, crime and gangs to the city and overwhelmed police, schools and hospitals.

“Hazleton was the first, and became the symbol of hope for many around the country,” he said at a news conference after the ruling was released by the appeals court on its website.

“Since I proposed this law more than four years ago, we have seen the growing frustration all across the country,” he said, a nod to similar measures in Arizona, Farmers Branch, Texas, and Valley Park, Mo.

Barletta took no questions but pledged to take the case to the Supreme Court.

“Today’s decision by the 3rd Circuit Court is not unexpected. I’m not disillusioned by this ruling,” Barletta said. “We knew this would not be the last stop on our journey.”

Hispanic groups and illegal immigrants sued to overturn the measures, and a federal judge struck them down following a trial in 2007. The laws have never been enforced.