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Legal challenge filed to Hazleton ordinance

by repost Thursday, Aug. 17, 2006 at 5:31 AM

The anti-migrant law in Hazleton PA - a law that copied a local SanBernardino effort by Save Our State Nazi Joe Turner, has been challenged in court.

08/16/2006

Legal challenge filed to Hazleton ordinance

BY NICHOLE DOBO

STAFF WRITER

HAZLETON — The city’s illegal immigration ordinance was challenged Tuesday in federal court and Hazleton is unsure who will defend it in court or how the city will pay the legal fees.



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The American Civil Liberties Union, a Hispanic activist group and lawyers from Wilkes-Barre, Philadelphia and Allentown filed a 41-page suit alleging the Hazleton law illegally enforces federal law and violates constitutional and civil rights. They would also seek an injunction banning the city from enforcing the law, the groups said.

“Hazleton’s anti-immigration ordinance is bad for the community, is unconstitutional and will foster rampant discrimination,” Omar Jadwat, a staff attorney for the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement.

Mayor Lou Barletta said he is not backing down. He called the suit against the city “unfortunate.”

The city is soliciting funds to pay for legal costs through the mayor’s personal Web site that promotes the ordinance, Barletta said. The mayor could not name any lawyers who have offered to represent the city for free, but said some have expressed interest in helping.

City officials in San Bernadino, Calif. — where an identical ordinance was proposed — estimated it would cost a minimum of 0,000 to defend the ordinance in federal court.

Hazleton, which has an annual budget of million, has never done a study to determine how much legal fees will cost taxpayers.

The ordinance seeks to ban illegal immigrants from renting property, revoke business permits of those who “aid or abet” these immigrants and make English the “official” city language. The city passed it by a 4-1 vote in July.

The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the ACLU filed the suit on behalf of 11 Hazleton residents and three non-profit entities. They seek attorney fees and costs from the city and damages for the plaintiffs.

According to the suit, the Hazleton ordinance should be struck down because it:

n Illegally tries to enforce federal immigration laws, and violates constitutional and civil rights law.

n Infringes on the fundamental rights guaranteed under the 14th Amendment by limiting or eliminating illegal immigrants from buying food, residing, working or living in the city.

n Effectively denies an education to children who are illegal immigrants, a violation of the 14th Amendment and a Supreme Court ruling.

n Gives the local police more power than state law allows.

n Cannot be reasonably enforced because it is drafted too vaguely — meaning a reasonable person would not be able to determine to who the law applies.

One of the residents named in the suit has lost business since the ordinance was passed and has been harassed, according to the suit. Others, including two Italian immigrants, fear they will not be able to live in the city because of complications with their immigration paperwork.

“It makes every person who looks or sounds foreign a suspect, including those who are here legally,” Witold Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “You might as well just paint a target on every foreigners’ forehead or a sign saying, ‘Please treat me differently.’”

ndobo@citizensvoice.com

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