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US town sued over strict immigration law

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Civil rights campaigners have filed to sue the Pennsylvania town of Hazleton, seeking to block one of America's toughest local laws against illegal immigrants.

The suit says Hazelton's City Council violated the U.S. constitution when it passed a law denying business permits to companies that hire illegal aliens and fining landlords who rent homes to them.

The measure, which also establishes English as the town's official language, has made Hazleton a focus of the national debate on immigration. The plaintiffs say their suit is the first in the country to challenge a local immigration ordinance.

The suit was filed in federal court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania by groups including the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and the American Civil Liberties Union. They accuse Hazleton of overstepping its authority on the federal matter of immigration and say the law discriminates against immigrants.

"This mean-spirited law is wrong for many reasons but the most obvious is that the city does not have the power to make its own immigration laws," Omar Jadwat, an attorney for the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, said in a statement.

Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, a proponent of the Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance, says illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America has increased crime, overburdened schools and hospitals, and eroded the quality of life in the town of some 31,000 people.

Barletta predicted the law would survive a court challenge and said he would take it to the Supreme Court if necessary. "We're not going to be bullied," he said in a statement.

About a third of the Hazelton's residents are Hispanic, up from around 5 percent in 2000, officials say.

At the federal level, the House and Senate are trying to reconcile starkly different immigration bills that call for tougher United Sates border controls and provide routes to citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the country.


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