The folks out in Farmers Branch, Texas who crafted and led the effort that passed into law the local--underline just here "local"--ordinance that makes it illegal for landlords to lease apartments to individuals who do not have proof of legal residence in the United States received a near death blow last Thursday when U.S. District Judge James M. Munley struck down a similar ordinance passed in Hazelton, Pennsylvania.
The Hazelton ordinance was a symbol for the growing national movement among city and state officials across the nation to take immigration law and reform into their own hands. . . locally.
Bottom line, the judge's ruling establishes a clear principle: immigration law and enforcement is and must continue to be considered a federal issue. Judge Munley ruled in a 206-page decision that local authorities cannot go beyond federal law to impose penalties of their own making.
Hundreds of such ordinances have been enacted by local governments, as well as by state legislatures across the country.
Here are two of the judge's key conclusions:
"Allowing states or local governments to legislate with regard to the employment of unauthorized aliens would interfere with congressional objectives. . . ."
"We cannot say clearly enough that persons who enter this country without legal authorization are not stripped immediately of all their rights because of this single illegal act."
Munley's decision established the fact that immigration law involves much more than local issues, including factors related to the U. S. economy, labor, employers' rights to due process, international relations, and national security. Only federal authorities responsible for the direction of these larger, "national community" issues have the authority to pass legislation related to national immigration.
Communities like Farmers Branch, Texas and Hazelton, Pennsylvania may feel justified in taking immigration law into their own hands, but the interests of our national community will and should always trump local opinions and interests. If our history as a people teaches us anything, it teaches us this. Memories of the American Civil Rights Movement, national voting rights, fair housing rules, arguments about states' rights and even the nullification controversy preceding the U. S. Civil War come to mind just here.
The strength of our national life and the power of our national identity, our psyche as a people, resides in the fact that we are a national community. We do not act in isolation from one another. We live and we thrive as a community.
When our sense of community connection is gone, our unity and our collective strength will be gone as well.
A federal judge has ruled. The Farmers Branch City Council doesn't speak for our larger community as a nation.