U.S. appeals court weighs local law on illegals

/ Source: The Associated Press

Lawyers for a small eastern Pennsylvania city asked a federal appeals court Thursday to uphold a local law that would keep illegal immigrants from working or renting apartments there, in a case with national implications.

Cities and municipalities across the country have adopted laws similar to the City of Hazleton's 2006 ordinance. However, a federal judge later called the Hazleton law unconstitutional, and its provisions are not being enforced.

On Thursday, a lawyer for the former coal town argued that the ordinance would not conflict with federal immigration policy set by Congress. But an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer argued that municipalities should not be allowed to set varying standards and restrictions for illegal immigrants.

Congress, in crafting U.S. immigration law, aims to strike a balance between the rights of immigrants, foreign policy concerns, national security and other competing interests, ACLU lawyer Omar C. Jadwat told the three-judge panel.

"That's going to be impossible if Hazleton and other cities strike their own balance," Jadwat said.

Fines on landlords who rent to illegals
The city's Illegal Immigration Relief Act would impose fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and deny business permits to companies that give them jobs. It would also require tenants to register with City Hall and pay for a rental permit.

The 3rd U.S. Circuit is the first to hear an appeal of a local law involving illegal immigrants, but the 9th U.S. Circuit has upheld a statewide Arizona law that relates to employment issues. If the 3rd Circuit decides that Hazleton's work- and housing-related ordinance is unconstitutional, the Supreme Court may want to review the competing opinions.

Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta, who has gained a national following while championing the law, is running for Congress.

He argues that as much as 10 percent of the city's 33,000 residents are illegal immigrants. Some have relocated from New York and Philadelphia, lured by the lower cost of living. The mayor says they are a drain on city and school budgets.

The three-judge panel did not indicate when it might rule. Whichever side loses is likely to appeal.

Hazleton is 79 miles northwest of Philadelphia.