Local US law on illegal immigration held void

By Parveen Chopra, IANS

New York : After US President George W. Bush's failure to get a comprehensive immigration bill through, a federal judge in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, struck down as unconstitutional local ordinances designed to crack down on illegal immigrants.

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District Judge James Munley Thursday said Hazleton, about 100 miles (160 km) from New York, cannot implement a law that would penalise businesses that hire illegal immigrants and fine landlords who rent rooms to them. This decision deals a legal blow to similar laws passed elsewhere in the country.

Munley ruled that ordinances passed last year by the city council interfered with federal law, which regulates immigration, and violated the rights of employers, landlords and illegal immigrants. His opinion followed a federal trial in which civil rights groups including American Civil Liberties Union challenged Hazleton's law.

Hazleton, with a population of about 30,000, blames the recent rise in illegal immigration for boosting crime and overburdening social services. About a third of the city's residents are immigrants from Central America and around a quarter of the immigrant population is believed to be undocumented.

After the court verdict, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta said the city would take the case to the US Supreme Court if necessary.

Barletta, a Republican who has become a national voice for the fight against illegal immigration, added: "I will do everything I can to make Hazleton the toughest city in America for illegal immigrants."

Immigrants' rights campaigners say about 100 towns and cities have modelled their immigration laws on Hazleton in a bid to deal with an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the country. But none of them were implemented because authorities were awaiting the outcome of the Hazleton case, the first to be subjected to a full trial in a federal court.