FACING A FEDERAL LEGAL CHALLENGE, THE CITY of Hazleton, Pa., in September adopted a significantly revised version of its Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which penalizes employers and landlords for hiring or housing illegal immigrants and makes English the city's official language. It also agreed not to enforce the revised ordinance for 20 days after adoption. That will give the plaintiffs time to review it and decide if they will request an injunction to restrain enforcement until the lawsuit is resolved.
The lawsuit, which claims the ordinance is “riddled with constitutional flaws,” was filed in federal court in August by a broad-based group of civil liberties organizations, including several chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Puerto Rican Education and Legal Defense Fund, the Community Justice Project, as well as 11 individuals and three business and nonprofit organizations.
The city was assisted in rewriting the ordinance—which has now been divided into three separate laws—by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a Washington–based organization that supports stricter immigration control. The new ordinance eliminates a provision that penalized businesses for providing goods and services to illegal immigrants and defines illegal immigrants in language that mirrors federal regulations. Also, businesses would only face suspension of their occupational licenses after a complaint was made and investigated and after the business was given a chance to comply, says Mike Hethmon, general counsel for FAIR.
The revised ordinance also clarifies that the city isn't trying to usurp the federal government's role in determining anyone's immigration status. “If there are issues that come up, the local government officials have an obligation under the Hazleton scheme to obtain enough information to be able to submit [a report of an illegal alien] to the federal government,” Hethmon says. “They're not expected to be document examiners or immigration judges or anything in between.”