Reconciling Hazelton’s Illegal Immigrant Ordinance and the Nation’s Predicted Worker Shortage

July 27, 2007

A federal judge struck down the City of Hazelton’s ordinance which was enacted to combat criminal and social service problems blamed on the influx of "illegal immigrants" into the area. The court’s 206 page opinion ruled that the ordinance violates federal constitutional protections and was pre-empted by federal immigration laws.

The ordinance call the "Illegal Immigration Relief Act" prohibited employment and apartment rentals to illegal immigrants. It subjected anyone who hired an illegal immigrant or rented an apartment to loss of their business license and significant fines. The ordinance also required Hazleton landlords to present the  City with a passport, birth certificate or immigration documents or citizenship to show that he renter was in the country legally. The names were then checked against a federal data base to determine their immigration status.

The City of Hazelton’s frustration is a microcosm for the national immigration debate. According to news reports, these types of ordinances are being adopted by localities out of frustration with the lack of Congressional action to address issues created by the estimated 10 million illegal immigrants now living in the U.S.  In late June, Congress rejected the controversial Immigration Reform legislation. Cited as reasons for the bill’s failure were the grant of amnesty for current illegal immigrants and the resulting cost increases in government spending (estimated at $126 billion).

The public sentiments reflected in anti-immigrant legislation will be difficult to reconcile with the predicted labor shortage in the U.S. Many groups have already bemoaned worker shortages, particularly among skilled workers. One of the best resources for putting the whole problem in perspective is Ira Wolfe’s book entitled the Perfect Labor Storm, an update of which is due out in October. It is a compilation of facts about demographic trends in the global and U.S. economies in the areas of worker shortages, aging, employee turnover, obesity, education, literacy and others. Some of the many facts can be found on his website.

Juxtaposing the lack of national immigration reform, the backlash of public sentiment against immigrants and the demographic analysis of the U.S. labor market leads to very troubling conclusions which cannot be addressed by one judge’s opinion striking down a local ordinance.