HAZLETON — Laws meant to crack down on illegal immigrants working or living in Hazleton are on the books in Luzerne County’s second largest city, but another court ruling issued Friday means it still can’t enforce them.
A federal appeals court reaffirmed its previous decision barring Hazleton from enforcing laws targeting immigrants who are in the United States illegally. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia issued the decision Friday.
It was a ruling it made once before, but the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the lower level court to review it once more.
The ordinances the city enacted in 2006 sought to deny permits to businesses that hire people in the country illegally and fine landlords who rent to them. Because of an injunction against the city, the laws remain on the books but not used.
Current Hazleton Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi and his predecessor, now U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Hazleton, both said on Friday that the ruling was not what they were hoping to see.
“We’re disappointed,” Yannuzzi said, noting that the case now heads back to the Supreme Court. “This needs a conclusion one way or the other.”
Barletta said: “I’m disappointed, but it can’t end here. This fight must go back to the highest court in the country. I believe the Hazleton ordinance is not only constitutional but a common-sense approach to a problem that the federal government has turned a blind eye to.”
“I created this ordinance while I was mayor because I have seen first-hand the toll illegal immigration has on communities,” he said. “Our population in Hazleton grew by 50 percent, but our tax revenue remained the same. Small cities can’t withstand the drain illegal immigration has on them.”
Barletta advocated for the measures after two crimes were committed the same day in his city, both allegedly involving illegal immigrants.
The first involved Joan Romero and Pedro Cabrera, two illegal immigrants who were charged in the fatal shooting of Derek Kichline on May 10, 2006. The same day Kichline died, a 14-year-old illegal immigrant fired a handgun at a crowded school playground. Charges against Romero and Cabrera were later dropped because of an issue with a witness.
Barletta’s stance against illegal immigrants has garnered him national attention, and since being elected to Congress he’s worked hard on immigration issues.
Long court battle
The ACLU filed suit against the city in 2006 to block implementation of the ordinance. In July 2007, U.S. District Judge James Munley declared the ordinance unconstitutional. The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling in September 2010. The city then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court considered the Hazleton case and sent it back to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court in 2011 based on the Supreme Court’s May 26, 2011 decision that upheld an Arizona law, which is similar to the employment provision in Hazleton’s Illegal-Immigration Relief Act.
The city has relied on private donations to defend the never-enforced ordinance.
Proponents have spent nearly $500,000 on litigation using donations from thousands of individual donors, but have since received a $50,000 contribution that has sustained them recently, Yannuzzi said.
Omar Jadwat, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project in New York, said: “It is a shame that so much of the city government’s time and resources have been wasted on these fundamentally flawed laws, and we hope that the city will finally accept the courts’ judgment and move on.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.