Media Give Short Shrift to Pro-Illegal Alien Judgment

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge James Munley struck down a 2006 Hazleton, Pennsylvania ordinance that fined landlords who rented to illegal immigrants and revoked the licenses of businesses who hired them.  

The ruling affects “dozens of other municipalities” in which judges have put holds on similar laws pending a decision in the Hazleton lawsuit, according to the Associated Press.  CMI covered  several such cases in a previous story.   

Despite its broad ramifications, ABC and MSNBC failed to cover the ruling. CBS made only a brief mention on the July 26 Evening News. Anchor Katie Couric failed to discuss either the reasons behind the law or even mention Hazleton's name.  CNN's Lou Dobbs discussed the ruling in depth and brought on Mayor Barletta as a guest on July 26. 

The New York Times gave the erroneous impression in its lede that the punitive tentacles of the law were aimed at the immigrants themselves: “A federal judge in Pennsylvania yesterday struck down ordinances adopted by the City of Hazleton to bar illegal immigrants from working or renting homes there...”

The Washington Post did not quote a single source defending the basis for the law but did give space to opposition voices like Rudy Espinal, a Hazleton business owner, who claims the ordinance “turned this town upside down” and created “an incredible amount of division.” The Post quoted several paragraphs of Munley's caustic decision. 

NBC Nightly News Correspondent Pete Williams on July 26 heralded the ruling as a “big legal victory for the nation's immigrants.” He concluded the brief report: “The judge said the Constitution protects even those who evoke the least sympathy from the public.” 

Judge Munley ruled that the Hazleton ordinances preempted the federal government's “exclusive right” to regulate immigration and also deprived immigrants of their due process rights. 

"The genius of our Constitution is that it provides rights even to those who evoke the least sympathy from the general public,” Munley wrote.  “Hazleton, in its zeal to control the presence of a group deemed undesirable, violated the rights of such people, as well as others within the community. Since the United States Constitution protects even the disfavored, the ordinances cannot be enforced.”

The town passed the ordinance in 2006, partly to curb overcrowding in local apartments, relieve the strain on city services and halt a major crime wave.  In May 2006, Hazleton Mayor Louis J. Barletta won reelection in a landslide after promising to make Hazleton “one of the toughest places in the United States” and earning the nomination of both the local Democratic and Republican parties. 

Four of the plaintiffs were illegal immigrants, according to Munley's 206-page opinion.  All four sued anonymously as John Doe 1, 3, 5 and 7.

Defendants, however, question Judge Munley's decision.  City Attorney Kris Kobach disputed Munley's claim that only the federal government can enforce immigration laws and vowed to appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, according to the Associated Press.  

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1976 case De Canas v. Bica that states may apply immigration laws, including sanctions against employers, to illegal immigrants in their jurisdictions. 

David Niedrauer is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.