An anti-immigrant dream came true in 2006.  A small town in eastern Pennsylvania, Hazleton made it a crime to hire and house "illegal immigrants." As a result it practically lost its entire Hispanic population. The Census Bureau in 2008 found none of the 1,132 Hispanics it had back in the year 2000.

According to the city council of Hazleton, PA: "illegal aliens harm the health, safety and welfare" of its workers and residents, which it proclaimed in the ordinance named "The Illegal Immigration Relief Act" enacted in 2006.

Hazleton was under the impression "illegal" immigrants couldn't possibly defend themselves or assert any rights in court.

Hazleton was wrong.  On September 9, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed a District Court order and permanently enjoined –legally prohibited- Hazleton's enforcement of its city ordinances seeking "relief" from the so called burden of "illegal immigration".

The ordinances were found to be in violation of the United States Constitution Supremacy Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. "These interests, that are no less than our society's interests in a working federalism, are societal, not individual," explained the Court.

Hazleton's ordinances along with its arguments presented in court merited a stern chastisement by the United States Court of Appeals: 

Regrettable. A comparison of landlords renting to illegal immigrant tenants as being  "drug dealers" was found by the court to be "regrettable as it is unsound".

Wrong.  "Hazleton is wrong.  The federal prohibition against harboring has never been interpreted to apply so broadly as to encompass the typical landlord/tenant relationship."

Ridiculous. Hazleton's claim that "illegal" immigrants unable to rent housing could not claim injuries from the city but only from landlords, an appalled Court said: "This verges on the ridiculous".

Clueless. Unlike the balanced aim of Congress to simultaneously regulate immigration while preventing discrimination and not unnecessarily burdening American businesses, the Court regarded the "enforcement-only" ordinances in these terms: "Hazleton misses the point."

Disingenuous. Hazleton claimed that while it punished landlords for renting to "illegal" immigrants, nothing prevented the same "illegal" to buy property or to stay with friends in the city.  The court concluded, "The response is as disingenuous as it is unrealistic".


"Illegal" Immigrants Have a Right to Make a Legal Claim

Nine of the plaintiffs -including 2 minors-, the so called "illegal immigrants", were acknowledged to have standing, which is the "right to make a legal claim or seek judicial enforcement." (Black's Law Dictionary)

In order to prevent the authorities from deterring them from bringing the case against the City of Hazleton to court, the nine "illegal" immigrants were also allowed to appear as John and Jane Does, protecting their identities.

Despite pressure to force the disclosure of the identities of the nine immigrants, the District Court found that "ethnic tensions had escalated in Hazleton since enactment of the ordinances, and (that if) the named Plaintiffs had (already) been harassed and intimidated for their involvement in the litigation," aliens would be at a greater risk.

Hazleton still attempted to go after the "Doe Plaintiffs" by requesting the District Court to reveal their identities, but the "illegal" immigrants only agreed, and the Court supported them, to reveal their identity "only to Hazleton's attorneys, and not to Hazleton officials."

In order not to deter prospective litigants "lacking lawful status" from bringing cases clarifying constitutional rights, the District Court and the United States Court of Appeals, agreed that the litigation by Doe Plaintiffs "was in the public interest" and did not warrant "alerting federal immigration authorities to their presence".

Hazleton expected the "illegal" not to complain since they had "unclean hands" an expression employed by some lower courts who believe "illegal alien Plaintiffs" should be barred judicial access (based on "Henry" a case decided by a District Court of Oklahoma). 

Calling it an "invented bar… entirely improper" the U.S. Court of Appeals refused to accept the approach suggested by Hazleton.  "Whatever a person's immigration status, "an alien is surely a 'person'" entitled to Due Process Clause protections" emphatically stated the U.S. Court of Appeals reiterating that "no person will be denied the opportunity to present to the judiciary allegations concerning violations of fundamental constitutional rights."

A "substantial "shadow population" of illegal migrants -- numbering in the millions -- within our borders… denied the benefits that our society makes available to citizens and lawful residents… presents most difficult problems for a Nation that prides itself on adherence to principles of equality under law," opined the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982. [The Supreme Court affirmed in that case the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in favor of undocumented children's right to education in Texas.]


Setting a Precedent

The opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit will now impact not only Hazleton's ordinance but also all of the nearly 5,400 bills related to immigration introduced in all 50 states since 2005 until the first half of 2009 according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

From now on, courts must follow this decision. The September 9 opinion was handed as "Precedential" meaning it is "a decided case that furnishes a basis for determining later cases involving similar facts or issues" according to Black's Law dictionary.

Thousands of bills introduced in all 50 states, with hundreds already enacted, underscore the need for a precedent since many of those laws contain provisions that are "identical… to provisions in Hazleton's ordinances", according to the U.S. Appeals Court.

"If every city and state enacted and enforced such laws… the federal government's control would be effectively eviscerated," concluded a Northern District of Texas District Court.

"Indeed, the record strongly suggests that Hazleton's mayor (Barletta) intended these provisions to be at the forefront of exactly such an evisceration," concluded the U.S. Court of Appeals.


Will this precedent suffice?

The Court does not believe so and it called for greater reinforcement this time from the highest court in the nation: "the Supreme court will undoubtedly speak to this tension soon, given the number of states and localities attempting to chip away piece-meal at the federal power to regulate immigration."


United States Constitution - The Supremacy Clause

Article VI

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any state to the Contrary notwithstanding.


The Due Process Clause

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.


The Equal Opportunity Clause

Amendment XIV

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.


Laws Related to Immigration

Year Bills Enacted

2005    300 38

2006    570 84

2007 1,562 240

2008 1,305 206

2009 1,400 222

*National Conference of State Legislatures


Topics of Laws Enacted

Topic 2008 2009

Education 12 27

Employment 19 21

Health 11 28

ID/Driver's License 32 46

Law Enforcement 12 16

Public Benefits 9 15

*National Conference of State Legislatures

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