A federal judge struck down Hazleton's tough anti-illegal immigration law Thursday, ruling unconstitutional a measure that has been copied around the country.
The city's Illegal Immigration Relief Act sought to impose fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and deny business permits to companies that give them jobs. Another measure would have required tenants to register with City Hall and pay for a rental permit.
Based on testimony from a nine-day trial held in March, U.S. District Judge James Munley ruled that the act was pre-empted by federal law and would violate due process rights.
"The genius of our Constitution is that it provides rights even to those who evoke the least sympathy from the general public," Munley wrote in a 206-page opinion.
"Hazleton, in its zeal to control the presence of a group deemed undesirable, violated the rights of such people, as well as others within the community."
Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta called the decision bizarre and said he intends to file an appeal.
"Sadly, today's decision sends the wrong message to elected officials in Washington and elsewhere," he said. "We, the American people, want our cities secured, our borders protected and our citizenship respected. This battle is far from over."
Hazleton's act was copied by dozens of municipalities around the nation that believe the federal government hasn't done enough to stop illegal immigration. Munley's ruling does not affect those measures, although most of them had been put on hold pending the outcome in Hazleton, according to the plaintiffs' lawyers.
Barletta had pushed for the strict laws last summer after two illegal immigrants were charged in a fatal shooting. The Republican mayor argued that illegal immigrants brought drugs, crime and gangs to the city of more than 30,000, overwhelming police and schools.
Hispanic groups and illegal immigrants in Hazleton sued, denouncing the measures as racist and divisive.
"It is a bittersweet victory," Anna Arias, president of the Hazleton Area Latino Association, said Thursday. "It is sad in the sense that we should be spreading love and unity, and not hatred and division as this has created. This has divided the community."
Witold J. Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, which represented the plaintiffs, said other cities should take notice.
"This decision should be a blaring red stoplight for local officials thinking of copying Hazleton's misguided and unconstitutional law," Walczak said.