Mayor: Crime Prompted Hazleton’s Immigrant Crackdown

Michael Rubinkam, AP, March 15, 2007

The mayor of Hazleton on Thursday described a series of violent crimes that led him to believe illegal immigrants were running amok in his city.

Defending his crackdown on illegal immigrants, Lou Barletta told a judge that violent crime spiked 60 percent between 2003 and 2006, driving businesses away and making residents afraid to come out of their homes.

In the span of a few weeks last spring, he said, illegal immigrants were arrested for shooting and killing a man, shooting up a playground with a BB gun and dealing drugs.

“People were demanding that something be done,” said Barletta, testifying on the fourth day of a trial to determine the constitutionality of Hazleton’s Illegal Immigration Relief Act.

“I understand those who say the federal government is in charge of regulating immigration,” Barletta said. “However, these crimes are being committed on our streets.”

The ordinance, passed last summer, imposes fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and denies business permits to companies that employ them. A companion measure requires tenants to register with City Hall.

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ACLU lawyer Witold “Vic” Walczak confronted Barletta with statistics showing that illegal immigrants were responsible for less than one percent of the more than 8,000 crimes in the city between 2001 and 2006.

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In addition to arguing that federal law pre-empts local efforts to control illegal immigration, ACLU lawyers are trying to show Barletta’s remedy would result in discrimination against the city’s Hispanic population, estimated at 7,000 to 10,000.

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Marc Rosenblum, an immigration expert at the University of New Orleans, said landlords and employers, afraid of losing their ability to conduct business in the city, will be more likely to pass over Hispanics for jobs and apartments—regardless of their immigration status.

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Under questioning by Kris Kobach, the city’s lawyer, Rosenblum conceded many of his predictions were speculative.

Kobach, a University of Missouri law professor and immigration adviser to former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, said Hazleton will use an Internet-based program run by the federal government to determine a person’s immigration status.

Citing a nationwide survey of employers already enrolled in Basic Pilot, he said the program makes businesses more likely to hire immigrants, not less, because it gives them a degree of certainty that the job candidate is authorized to be in the country.

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