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Supreme Court Orders Review of Pennsylvania City's Immigration Reforms

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A detail of the West Facade of the U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, Monday, March 7, 2011. (AP) (AP2011)

Two weeks after issuing a major ruling affirming a state's right to pass legislation cracking down on employers who knowingly hire illegal workers, the Supreme Court has voided a lower court ruling blocking a city ordinance that does the same and also targets landlords who willfully house illegals. 

Monday's decision will undoubtedly please those who've been critical of the federal government's enforcement efforts. 

The Third Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals stopped city leaders in Hazleton, Pa. from enforcing local laws prohibiting employers from knowingly hiring illegal aliens. The city also sought to prevent landlords from harboring illegals through apartment rentals. It was the city's attempt to stop a population explosion attributed to an influx of illegal workers who do not pay local income taxes. 

The case will now be sent back to the Third Circuit with instructions to review the matter given the court's ruling in a nearly identical case that a closely divided court resolved in May. That decision said Arizona could pass laws revoking the business licenses of employers who willfully hired illegals. 

Both cases focused on the compulsory use of the federal E-Verify database, which tracks the immigration status of millions of people. The high court, in a 5-3 ruling, said state governments can force the use of the system even though Congress has never mandated its use. 

The city's lawyers argued the ordinances work in concert with federal laws. 

"Hazleton's ordinances match the terms and classifications of federal immigration law and require officials to defer to federal determinations of aliens' immigration statuses," Kris Kobach of the Immigration Reform Law Institute told the court. "In drafting the ordinances, the city made every effort to avoid any conflict with federal immigration laws." 

It's the same argument Arizona's lawyers made when their case went before the court and is one that Chief Justice John Roberts and four of his colleagues agreed with. 

"(Federal law) expressly reserves to the states the authority to impose sanctions on employers hiring unauthorized workers, through licensing and similar laws. In exercising that authority, Arizona has taken the route least likely to cause tension with federal law," Roberts wrote last month.