Monday, March 10, 2014

Anti-Immigrant Ordinance in PA Dies in High Court

Tom Joseph, Public News Service-PA

HAZLETON, Pa. - The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear the case of anti-immigrant ordinances passed by a Pennsylvania city in 2006 but deemed unconstitutional by lower courts. The measures would have barred individuals the city of Hazleton defined as "illegal aliens" from rental housing, and would have punished Hazleton residents and businesses for doing business with individuals who couldn't prove they were in the U.S. legally.

According to Vic Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania and co-counsel in the Hazleton case, the ordinances drove a wedge.

"It truly divided that city, and after an eight-year ordeal where we've managed to block the law from ever taking effect, the case is now over: game, set and match," he declared.

He declared that the now-banned ordinances had set up what he called a "show me your papers" atmosphere in Hazleton.

"And who do you ask for papers? Do you ask somebody like me who's white-skinned and has a New Jersey accent, or are you going to ask the people who look and sound foreign, who may be a little bit darker in skin color?", the ACLU lawyer asked.

Walczak said the Hazleton decision may well have an effect far beyond the city's boundaries.

"Now that, in fact, it has been declared unconstitutional, I think it's going to scare communities who might want to go down this road off from going forward."

Walczak said that, prior to the court decision, any time anyone who got a job in Hazleton had to produce documentation that they were in the country legally, as did people applying for housing. Walczak said the decision allows Hazleton to put the issue in the rear-view mirror and move forward as a welcoming and productive city. 

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