The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Legal Fight over Harsh Local Immigration Law Moves Forward

by Michelle Chen

Sept. 4, 2006 – A court order temporarily suspended one of the country’s harshest local immigration laws on Friday, allowing civil liberties groups and local officials to prepare for an impending legal battle that could set a national precedent.

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The Pennsylvania District Court’s order solidified an interim settlement following a complaint filed in August on behalf of a group of local residents, businesses and nonprofits in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. According to the order, the city has agreed to hold off for now on implementing an anti-immigrant ordinance that it enacted in July. In the meantime, the mayor and city council will have until October 2 to revise its ordinance.

The so-called Illegal Immigration Relief Act could impose unprecedented restrictions on immigrants in the city. Landlords would be fined for providing housing to undocumented immigrants. Businesses or organizations known to employ or provide job assistance to undocumented immigrants would be denied permits and contracts. The ordinance would also make English the city’s official language and generally require all city documents to be in English only.

Civil-liberties groups argue that the measure violates due-process and free-speech protections and would curtail the rights of both documented and undocumented immigrants. Similar legislation has been adopted or is under discussion in municipalities in California, Texas, Missouri, New Jersey,and other states.

In a letter to Mayor Louis Barletta last month, the plaintiffs requested that the city settle the case by dropping the law. For now, under the agreement, the plaintiffs will hold off on taking legal action until the city either adopts an alternative ordinance, or chooses to implement the existing law. At that point, the city would wait 20 days to actually begin enforcement so that opponents have time to renew their legal challenge.

While Friday’s court order would delay further action on the ordinance, Barletta has told reporters that he stands by the original law and plans to work with legal counsel to amend it to withstand a constitutional challenge.

On Sunday, a rally against the bill drew about 300 protesters in Hazleton.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Michelle Chen is a staff journalist.

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