Monday, March 19, 2007


Since the federal government refuses to address immigration in a meaningful way (i.e. something other than a fence) local governments are stepping in. The problem is that they are making even more of a mess. Case in point, Hazleton, PA, which is now the epicenter of the local enforcement debate, and is currently in the middle of a major lawsuit that will have a significant impact nationally.

The Hazleton mayor believes that illegal immigration is a source of crime (suspects in a local murder case were undocumented immigrants from the Dominican Republic) and with allies on the city council passed a law (the Illegal Immigration Relief Act) punishing landlords who rented to illegal immigrants and business owners who hired them. The council also passed law requiring all tenants to register at City Hall.

The essential question is whether local authorities have the constitutional right to pass laws related to immigration at all, since it is related to foreign policy, which is the exclusive authority of the federal government. There is, however, a lot of ambiguity, which ultimately the courts will have to clarify.

The Hazleton case is also revealing in terms of perceptions people have about illegal immigration. Testimony shows that the town never studied whether there was any relationship to crime, law enforcement did not have the slightest idea how to enforce the laws, and no one understood exactly how the laws would work in practice. In fact, the city council’s president claimed that research wasn’t feasible:

“There is no 100 percent (certainty), and to have studies done ... I pass the pooper- scooper law, what am I going to do — study that? We can’t have consultants come here every two seconds.”

The prosecution presented its case last week, and so starting today (for a two week trial) the town will lay out its argument. Their lawyers have conceded that town leaders had no empirical data, but will now lay out what they say is proof that illegal immigrants are destroying their way of life.


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