Image: Rally in Hazleton, Pa.
Steve Klaver  /  AP
A crowd gathers below the steps during a 2007 rally in support of Hazleton mayor Lou Barletta, in front of City Hall in Hazleton, Pa. A federal appeals court has ruled that Hazleton may not enforce its crackdown on illegal immigrants, dealing another blow to legislation that inspired copycat measures around the nation, including Arizona.
updated 9/9/2010 1:40:13 PM ET 2010-09-09T17:40:13

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 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.

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The northeastern Pennsylvania city had sought to fine landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and deny business permits to companies that give them jobs. A companion measure required prospective tenants to register with City Hall and pay for a rental permit.

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 of more than 30,000 and overwhelmed police, schools and hospitals.

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.

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"We're glad that the court recognized that allowing states and municipalities to set up alternate employment and housing regulations for immigrants will lead to an unworkable patchwork of laws," said Vic Walczak of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which represented the plaintiffs.

Barletta did not immediately return a phone message Thursday.

Hazleton's act was copied by dozens of municipalities around the nation that believe the federal government hasn't done enough to stop illegal immigration.

The crux of the debate has now shifted to Arizona and its strict new law, provisions of which include requiring officers to check a person's immigration status while enforcing other laws. A judge has blocked the law's most controversial provisions.

In the Hazleton case, the appeals court said the city's ordinances conflict with federal immigration law and thus are pre-empted.

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