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Federal Court Strikes Down Hazelton, PA Immigration Law

By Laura Strachan, Esq. on September 13, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A 2006 Hazelton, Pennsylvania immigration law that allowed the city to revoke business licenses for those companies that employed illegal immigrants, and fine landlords that knowingly rented to them has been struck down by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. You can read the case opinion in Lozano v. City of Hazelton on

The Philadelphia Inquirer quotes Chief Judge Theodore McKee's rationale in the Pennsylvania immigration law case:

"Federal law simply does not prohibit landlords from renting (in the ordinary course of business) to persons who lack lawful immigration status. Nor does federal law directly prohibit persons lacking lawful status from renting apartments. It is not our job to sit in judgment of whether state and local frustration about federal immigration policy is warranted. We are, however, required to intervene when states and localities directly undermine federal objectives embodied in statutes enacted by congress."

The Hazelton Pennsylvania law was a proud trailblazer in local anti-immigration policies, and many other states and cities patterned similar laws after it -- a trend that many states may now find themselves facing similar constitutional challenges. In addition to imposing fines on landlords ($1,000 fine for each illegal immigrant a landlord rents to), the law also required a renter to obtain a permit in order to rent an apartment; the permit approval was partly predicated on an applicants' immigration status.

In the end, the controversial law failed because it contradicted federal laws. Although states have a right to make their own laws, this right does not come at the expense of federal laws. In declaring the Philadelphia immigration law unconstitutional, the court is asserting federal superiority over state law when it comes to illegal immigrant housing issues. Put differently, regulating immigration is an area of federal domain. The case will likely be appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

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