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US Court Strikes Down City's Illegal Immigration Ordinances

A U.S. federal judge has struck down Thursday several anti-immigrant ordinances passed by the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania. This "Illegal Immigration Relief Act" imposed strict penalties on landlords and employers if they rented to or hired illegal immigrants. VOA's Sean Maroney reports from Washington.

U.S. District Court Judge James Munley has ruled that it is unconstitutional for the city of Hazleton to impose fines on businesses that hire illegal immigrants and landlords who rent to them. Hazleton passed the "Illegal Immigration Relief Act" last July but never implemented it because of a court injunction.

Dozens of towns and cities across the United States have already copied Hazleton's Act for their action to deal with illegal immigrants.

In his 200-page opinion, Judge Munley says federal law prohibits the city from enforcing any provisions of its ordinances. Hazleton's Mayor Lou Barletta says he plans to appeal the ruling.

"I am very disappointed that Judge Munley has ruled against all legal residents of the city of Hazleton. This fight is far from over," he said. "I have said it many times before that Hazleton is not going to back down."

Hazleton passed the immigration act after city officials blamed a recent rise in illegal immigration for increasing crime and overwhelming social services in the city of 30,000. Hispanic and civil rights groups sued the city. They said the measures were racist and divisive.

However, the court ruled that a city cannot enact any ordinances dealing with illegal immigration because they conflict with what is commonly called the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution, which makes federal law the supreme law of the land.

Agapito Lopez with the Hazleton Latino Organization says this ruling sends a clear message to the dozens of other communities in the United States considering similar laws.

"From [the city of] Farmers Branch in Texas to Florida, there is about 120 cities that have been waiting to see if they can enact their own immigration laws," he said. "This is something that pertains to the Congress."

Jose Molina with the Pennsylvania Statewide Latino Coalition tells VOA that a continued legal fight is the last thing his group wants as a plaintiff in this case.

"It's sad because we were hoping that with this determination from the judge we would be able to start a process of healing in the community which has been polarized by this issue," said Molina.

An estimated 12 million immigrants are living in the United States without documentation.