Thursday, September 9, 2010

Third Circuit Declares Hazelton Immigration Ordinances Unconstitutional

In a closely watched case with similarities to the challenges to Arizona's SB 1070 (partially enjoined by a district judge), the Third Circuit issued a 188 page opinion today.  Upholding the district judge, the panel unanimously agreed that the two ordinances of Hazelton, Pennsylvania regulating immigration are pre-empted by the federal immigration scheme.

US_Permanent_Resident_Card_2010-05-11 The court spends considerable space discussing the Hazelton ordinances, which are also contained in a twenty page appendix.  Basically, however, there are two pertinent provisions: the "employment" ordinance and the "housing" ordinance.  While finding both unconstitutional, the Third Circuit ruled that the employment provision and housing provision must be treated separately.  The panel also found the plaintiffs had standing to challenge both of these provisions, except for the section that allowed for a private cause of action, and that some of the plaintiffs could proceed anonymously.

The employment provision makes it unlawful “for any business entity” to “recruit, hire for employment, or continue to employ” or “permit, dispatch, or instruct any person” who is an “unlawful worker” to perform work within Hazleton, and requires employer affidavits.  The Third Circuit noted that a licensing scheme is not expressly pre-empted by the federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”), and also that it was subject to a presumption against pre-emption.

However, the court noted that the Hazelton employment provisions upset the "careful balance" Congress crafted in the IRCA:

By imposing additional sanctions on employers who hire unauthorized aliens, while not penalizing those who discriminate, Hazleton has elected to place all of its weight on one side of the regulatory scale. This creates the exact situation that Congress feared: a system under which employers might quite rationally choose to err on the side of discriminating against job applicants they perceive to be foreign. This is inconsistent with IRCA and therefore cannot be tolerated under the Supremacy Clause.

The court thus does not demand the plaintiffs prove discrimination is occurring in Hazelton, reasoning that "Congress has already addressed that question."  The court adds that although "Congress could not have been certain that one-sided sanctions would lead to future discrimination when it enacted IRCA, it was sufficiently troubled by the likelihood to commit to preventative action."   Therefore to be "consistent with federal law, states and localities that use regulatory enactments to sanction employers who have been found guilty of employing unauthorized aliens under IRCA must impose sanctions of equal severity on employers found guilty of discriminating."

The court subjected the housing provisions to an even stricter standard, finding that they are not entitled to any presumptive constitutionality.  The court stated that through its "housing provisions, Hazleton attempts to regulate residence based solely on immigration status. Deciding which aliens may live in the United States has always been the prerogative of the federal government. Hazleton purposefully chose to enter this area of significant federal presence."  The court noted that Hazelton's ordinance must be considered in the context of all communities:  if Hazelton can pass such an ordinance, so can every locality.  (We discussed a challenge to an ordinance in Fremont, Nebraska here).

Perhaps most importantly, the court noted that Hazelton's attempt to regulate based on what it termed a "snapshot" of immigration status was problematical:

Merely because an immigrant may have a present status does not mean that this status is correct, unchangeable, or may cause the federal government to exercise its discretion to remove the immigrant.  Stitched into the fabric of Hazleton’s housing provisions, then, is either a lack of understanding or a refusal to recognize the complexities of federal immigration law. Hazleton would effectively remove from its City an alien college student the federal government has purposefully declined to initiate removal proceedings against. So too would Hazleton remove an alien battered spouse, currently unlawfully present, but eligible for adjustment of status to lawful permanent resident under the special protections Congress has afforded to battered spouses and children.

Such a rationale seems fatal for any argument that a locality is simply enforcing the federal immigration laws.

The opinion's conclusion on the employer provision, however, conflicts with the Ninth Circuit's opinion in  Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Candelaria, on which the Supreme Court granted certiorari.  Candelaria involves the Legal Arizona Workers Act, Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 23-211 et seq., that sanctions employers for knowingly or intentionally employing "unauthorized aliens." 

RR

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Current Affairs, Federalism, Opinion Analysis, Preemption, Supremacy Clause | Permalink

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