By Jerry Lynott
A $39.1 billion Homeland Security Appropriations bill approved Thursday included an amendment by U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta to withhold funds from municipalities defying enforcement of federal immigration law.
Barletta, R-Hazleton, who made illegal immigration an issue while he was Hazleton mayor, said the amendment was needed to put pressure on towns and cities to uphold the law on the books since 1996.
"It's the only way to force municipalities who are defying to enforce federal law," Barletta said Friday.
The relevant Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act prohibits a local government entity or official from restricting the exchange of information about the citizenship or immigration status of a person with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The law received bi-partisan support in Congress and was signed into law in 1996.
Some major cities like Philadelphia, New York and San Francisco have declared themselves sanctuary cities, saying "they will not share or ask anyone's immigration status and that includes even if they are a criminal," Barletta said.
Yet the cities still receive millions in federal funds, he added.
Barletta bristled when recalling the fight against him as mayor when Hazleton passed Illegal Immigration Relief Act in 2006. The ordinance made it illegal for landlords to knowingly rent to illegal immigrants and for employers to hire them.
"My city was sued for trying to enforce federal law," he said.
The city held off implementing the ordinance as it faced legal challenges all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last year the nation's highest court vacated a federal appellate court decision that declared the ordinance unconstitutional. The case was sent back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit for reconsideration.
Still to be determined is whether the amendment, passed by a voice vote, and the bill passed by a vote of 234 to 182 in the U.S. House of Representatives makes it through the U.S. Senate and then onto President Barack Obama's desk for signing into law.
Barletta was optimistic it would stand.
"I believe it does (have a chance). I wouldn't have proposed it if it didn't have a chance," he said.
Barletta received support in offering the amendment from U.S. Reps. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., David Schweikert, R-Ariz., John Culbertson, R-Texas, and Steve King, R-Iowa.