Hazleton's mayor speaks out on his controversial ordinance (Chambersburg, Pa.)
By LINWOOD OUTLAW III
Staff writer, Chambersburg Public Opinion
Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta's highly publicized campaign to enforce laws cracking down on the city's influx of illegal immigrants has ruffled more than a few feathers across the nation.
The public uproar over his proposed ordinance continues to astonish Barletta.
"I never knew that one ordinance would touch a nerve across America," Barletta told members of the Franklin County Republican Party and other guests Saturday. "Before we knew it, Hazleton was being swamped with media from across the country. ... When illegal immigrants are walking the streets in your community, it's a local issue. It's not just a federal issue. Illegal immigrants are draining our resources."
Barletta -- who announced last week that he will run for a third term as mayor -- was the speaker Saturday morning at the Republican Party's inaugural countywide monthly breakfast at the Quality Inn & Suites hotel in Chambersburg.
Barletta drew national attention last summer when he introduced the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which seeks to punish landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and employers who hire them. The ordinance would also make English the official language of Hazleton.
"I think it's (the Hazleton ordinance) fair. It certainly isn't racial," Chambersburg Mayor John A. Redding said of the ordinance. The possibility of a similar ordinance being established in Chambersburg, Redding said, is not out of the question.
"I think there's a possibility it could happen, once legal barriers are cleared," Redding said.
Under the proposed Hazleton act, landlords would face $1,000 fines for each illegal immigrant found renting their properties. Employers who give jobs to immigrants would be denied permits.
"Businesses are the magnet that is bringing illegal immigrants to the community," Barletta told guests Saturday.
Barletta says illegal immigration is the root of problems such as higher crime rates, failing schools, overcrowded classrooms and financial hardships for hospitals.
"The city (of Hazleton) today is now at a (financial) deficit. We are being spiraled into debt," Barletta said. "The crime rate has increased by more than 10 percent. The number of vicious crimes have doubled in the last two years."
Since Barletta presented his ordinance last July, more than 100 municipalities in 27 states have considered enforcing similar illegal immigration laws that punish landlords and employers.
"It's a very popular issue. I don't know why most politicians shy away from it. I think he's (Barletta) on the right track. I'm in support of immigration as long as it's legal," Rep. Todd Rock, R-Mont Alto, said.
Barletta warned politicians and city council members who may be considering ordinances against illegal immigrants to be prepared for mass scrutiny.
"If you pass an ordinance like this, you're going to be called names like you've never been called in your life," Barletta said. "There were not many elected officials who were willing to stand by my side when I first did this. It was very difficult to get any high-level official to support what I was doing."
Hazleton's ordinance has been blocked by a federal judge and is pending court challenge. Barletta said the case, which has been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, could go before the U.S. Supreme Court. Among the biggest legal problems for Hazleton, he said, is that courts have refused to disclose the names of plaintiffs pressing charges against the city. Some of the plaintiffs are believed to be illegal immigrants.
"The judge is not even allowing us to appeal that decision. Plaintiffs that are suing us, most of them have gone under the name of John and Jane Does," Barletta said. "Surprisingly, they're not even showing up for their depositions."
Some in attendance on Saturday were local officials from other states that are trying to enforce laws to help curb illegal immigration.
"I've basically echoed what he (Barletta) says when he asks 'what part of illegal don't you understand'," said Ted Hochstein, a member of the Herndon, Va., planning commission. "We've (Herndon) gone from having one housing inspector to having seven inspectors in recent years because of overcrowding issues caused by illegal immigration. We're dealing with a lot of issues that Hazleton's dealing with."
Herndon council members recently voted to require contractors to certify that their employees are in the country legally, Hochstein said. He said the council also passed a resolution asking the Virginia General Assembly to prohibit the hiring of illegal immigrants and to grant Herndon the authority to license day-laborer sites.
To help raise donations for legal fees, Barletta said Hazleton officials have organized a City of Hazleton Legal Defense Fund through its Small Town Defenders campaign. So far, Barletta said, the fund has generated about $80,000 in donations.
"I appreciate his (Barletta) willingness to take a stand like he has on an issue that's so important to this country. He's doing his job not only for Hazleton, but for the rest of us," Chambersburg resident John Pace said.
Barletta reiterated Saturday that he and other Hazleton officials will not be intimidated by state or federal judges.
"Illegal is illegal. There's no race in illegal," Barletta said. "A lot of people probably assumed that our little town would back down and roll over. Well, some things are worth fighting for, and we will never back down."