HAZLETON, Pa (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Thursday struck down as unconstitutional a local law designed to crack down on illegal immigration, dealing a blow to similar laws passed by dozens of towns and cities across the country.
U.S. District Judge James Munley said the city of Hazleton, 100 miles north of Philadelphia, was not allowed to implement a law that would fine businesses that hire illegal immigrants and penalize landlords who rent rooms to them.
"Federal law prohibits Hazleton from enforcing any of the provisions of its ordinances," Munley wrote in a 206-page opinion following a federal trial in which Hazleton's law was challenged by civil rights groups.
The city of 30,000 blames a recent rise in illegal immigration for boosting crime and overburdening social services. The law was passed in July 2006 but was not implemented because of a court injunction won by opponents.
About a third of the city's residents are immigrants from Central America and around a quarter of the immigrant population is believed to be undocumented, according to civil rights campaigners.
Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta said the city would likely appeal the decision.
"I believe both sides realized this wasn't going to be the last day. This small city isn't ready to stop fighting yet," Barletta told CNN.
Dozens of towns and cities have modeled their own immigration laws on Hazleton in a bid to deal with an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.