(CN) – The Supreme Court on Monday ordered the 3rd Circuit to reconsider its ruling that struck down ordinances in Hazleton, Pa., aimed at blocking illegal immigrants from getting jobs or renting apartments.
The Philadelphia-based federal appeals court found in September 2010 that Hazleton’s regulations “undermined” the federal government’s careful balance between curbing illegal immigration and preventing employers and landlords from discriminating against anyone who looks foreign.
In vacating this ruling on Monday, the high court directed the 3rd Circuit to re-evaluate the case in light of America v. Whiting, a May 26 ruling that upheld a controversial Arizona law that punishes employers who intentionally hire undocumented immigrants.
Hazleton adopted its law after the community’s population jumped from 23,000 in 2000 to about 33,000 in 2007, due in part to an influx of Latino immigrants from New York and New Jersey.
The mayor and other local officials blamed illegal immigrants for many of the city’s social problems and reacted by passing a series of ordinances meant to stop undocumented workers from getting jobs or housing in Hazleton.
As with Arizona, employment provisions barred businesses from knowingly hiring illegal immigrants and required them to check a worker’s legal status before hiring. Companies that employed illegal immigrants faced losing their licenses. They could also be sued by former lawful employees who had been fired while the company employed illegal immigrants.
The ordinances also blocked landlords from renting to illegal immigrants and forced prospective tenants to obtain an “occupancy permit,” which required a $10 fee and proof of legal status. Landlords found guilty of renting to someone without a permit faced a $1,000 fine per unauthorized occupant. This fine also applied to legal tenants who allowed illegal immigrants to live with them.
A group of landlords, tenants and unnamed illegal immigrants challenged the ordinances in federal court, claiming the rules violated the state and federal constitutions, the Fair Housing Act, the plaintiffs’ privacy rights and various state laws.
U.S. District Judge James Munley issued an injunction barring enforcement of the ordinances, explaining that the state laws were pre-empted by federal immigration law.
The Philadelphia-based appeals court largely upheld the decision, but said Munley failed to consider a doctrine that allows states to pass immigration laws within their “historical police powers,” so long as the laws don’t tread on the government’s power to regulate immigration.
Although Hazleton’s ordinances closely mirrored federal immigration law, Chief Circuit Judge Theodore McKee said the city did not include the anti-discrimination provisions found in federal law.
When Congress enacted laws against hiring or harboring illegal immigrants, it also made sure that landlords and employers couldn’t refuse to hire or rent to anyone who looked foreign in order to “play it safe.”
The 3rd Circuit had said that Hazleton did not take enough steps to avoid discrimination.
“It appears plain that the purpose of these housing provisions is to ensure that aliens lacking legal immigration status reside somewhere other than Hazleton,” McKee wrote. “It is this power to effectively prohibit residency based on immigration status that is so clearly within the exclusive domain of the federal government.”
In 2009, more than 1,500 immigration bills were introduced in state legislatures. Of those, 222 laws were passed, and 131 resolutions were adopted.