At least politically speaking, immigration has proven to be a polarizing topic with fierce and passionate emotions on both sides. While proponents of immigration reform scramble to shore up momentum and salvage any last hopes of legislation before the end of the year, those who ignore or remain oblivious to just how extreme the nativist movement can be, risk losing sight of how formidable the opposition is.
Here, in the Third Circuit, a case–Lozano v. City of Hazleton–was recently decided that illuminates how perilously close restrictionist and xenophobic tendencies can insidiously coagulate into laws if they are not vigorously opposed. From 2006 to 2007, the city of Hazleton enacted two ordinances: the Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance (IIRAO) and the Rental Registration Ordinance (RO). The IIRAO made it unlawful for any person to knowingly employ, instruct, dispatch or permit an illegal alien to work within the city, and it created a number of sanctions to enforce them. The ordinance also made it unlawful for any property owner to harbor an illegal alien, which was defined as the leasing or renting of a dwelling place to an unauthorized alien. The RO created occupancy permit for renters over the age of eighteen. The only way that a person could be granted such a permit was by furnishing proof of legal citizenship or residency.
Taken together, the two permits would have barred illegal and undocumented aliens from any type of employment or housing within the city. The ordinances were enacted after Hazleton officials blamed illegal immigration for the town’s crime and economic woes. This was despite evidence to the contrary, showing that the town’s finances actually improved after immigrants began arriving in the town, and illegal aliens having a low rate of crime.
These controversial ordinances generated a firestorm of controversy that ultimately led to litigation. Specifically, the issue was whether the local ordinances regulated and governed conduct that is under the province of federal laws and hence, breached The Supremacy Clause. The Supremacy Clause, in short, guarantees that the Constitution and our federal laws and treaties take precedence over state laws.
The case eventually reached The United States Supreme Court, where it was remanded back to the Third Circuit which ruled that the ordinance barring employment conflicting with federal law and was pre-empted. Specifically, the IIRAO’s restrictions exceeded those authorized by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”). This is because the federal government only restricts hiring, recruitment and paid referrals, while the IIRAO impacted independent contractors and non-employees.
The Third Circuit also overturned the housing regulations, holding that principles of preemption again applied, and that due to the breadth of federal laws on this subject, it has a dominant interest in that area. As such, both local ordinances were stymied with permanent injunctions, and once more the federal government asserted its position as the sole arbiter of issues within the realm of immigration.
Cases like these illustrate that even if calls for comprehensive immigration reform do not coalesce into a corporeal bill by the year’s end, it is nevertheless imperative that advocates continue to press the issue. In order to safeguard and protect the liberty of those already within our country (and ultimately, our own), we need to be vigilant as ever for signs of extremism that tries to mask itself though legislation that proclaims to defend our way of life, but actually erodes it.