Court of Appeals Strikes Down Hazleton’s Anti-Immigrant City Ordinance

Today, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a closely watched four-year-old, anti-immigrant city ordinance that made it illegal to rent to or hire undocumented immigrants in the town of Hazleton, PA. Latino and civil rights groups led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) successfully argued that the ordinance is preempted by federal law. The court concluded:

It is, of course, 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. The employment provisions of the IIRAO [Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance] “stand[] as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution” of IRCA’s objectives, Hines, 312 U.S. at 67, and thus are pre-empted.

The appeals court decision upheld a U.S. District judge’s 2007 ruling which dismissed the ordinance, stating that “immigration law is the province of the federal government alone.” “This is a major defeat for the misguided, divisive and expensive anti-immigrant strategy that Hazleton has tried to export to the rest of the country,” said Omar Jadwat of the ACLU. “The Constitution does not allow states and cities to interfere with federal immigration laws or to adopt measures that discriminate against Latino and immigrant communities.”

However, a lot of the damage is already done. As many as 5,000 Latinos abandoned Hazleton as shopkeepers reported that their business dropped by 20%. In 2009, Hazleton was forced to ask a federal judge to reconsider a ruling made in favor of the city’s insurance carrier that would hold the city responsible for paying $2.4 million in attorney fees incurred from the lawsuit.


It’s not a coincidence that SB-1070 architects Kris Kobach and Michael M. Hethmon of the Immigration Reform Law Institute not only helped draft Hazleton’s anti-immigrant ordinance, but also defended it in court. Kobach has also been busy unsuccessfully defending a similar ordinance in Farmers Branch, TX. So far the small Texas town has spent $3.2 million to repeal a federal district judge decision which deemed the town’s rental ban ordinance unconstitutional and may have to spend an additional $623,000 this year. He was also recently hired to defend an almost identical ordinance that he helped draft for the town of Fremont, NE.

A federal judge recently enjoined several of the most significant provisions of SB-1070, similarly arguing that that “the United States is likely to succeed on the merits in showing that…[they] are preempted by federal law.”