John Peck, Huntsville Times, July 28, 2006
A city councilman’s proposal to crack down on illegal immigrants has apparently hit a stumbling block — the federal government.
City Attorney Peter Joffrion told the council Thursday night that the proposed Illegal Immigration Relief Ordinance runs afoul of federal law.
Joffrion gave that assessment before a council chamber packed with supporters and opponents of Glenn Watson’s proposal.
Watson drafted an ordinance that would fine landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and strip the city license of businesses that employ them. The measure would also declare English as Huntsville’s official language.
Joffrion said federal laws make it difficult for state and local governments to attempt to control illegal immigrants.
“The strongest legal argument is federal pre-emption,” Joffrion told the council. But there’s also fair housing and perhaps First Amendment issues.
“The ordinance, as it stands now, could not survive a legal challenge.”
Joffrion said U.S. immigration laws pre-empt state and local governments from delving into areas that are expressly reserved for Congress. Attempting to regulate immigration is one such area.
“I think we’d get sued if we adopted it,” Joffrion said.
Watson modeled his ordinance after a city measure passed this month in Hazleton, Pa. Joffrion told the council that the Hazleton ordinance is targeted in a lawsuit by the Legal Defense Fund.
Watson formally introduced his ordinance anyway with a vow to study the issue thoroughly, hold plenty of public hearings and amend the measure as necessary. He said he’s not bothered at this point that the city attorney has waved a legal flag at what he’s trying to do.
“I’m not saying Peter is wrong. I’m saying there are attorneys that would disagree with him,” Watson said after the meeting.
‘Robbing us blind’
Another man was more abrupt: “They’re sponging off us and robbing us blind.”
A couple of speakers mentioned the fatal shooting last year of Huntsville police officer Daniel Golden by an illegal immigrant, and a multiple-fatality wreck on Research Park Boulevard at Plummer Road caused by an uninsured, illegal immigrant.
Opponents of Watson’s ordinance preached for better tolerance and said most immigrants here are honest, hard-working people.
“Who’s plucking the chickens and doing the dirty work?” asked one.