By KENT JACKSON
SCRANTON – Hazleton has 1,500 to 3,400 illegal immigrants, and their households consume more in city services than they pay in taxes, a demographer estimated Tuesday.
Steven Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., was the first witness during the trial over Hazleton’s Illegal Immigration Relief Act to gauge the size of the city’s illegal immigrant community.
Plaintiffs suing in federal court to prevent the law from taking effect objected to Camarota’s testimony and said when testifying before Congress, Camarota always speaks of the cost of immigration.
They also sought to prevent testimony for Jack Martin, who attested to the time that illegal immigrants spent in Luzerne County prison, when Judge James M. Munley allowed him to take the stand.
Camarota said he extrapolated the population of illegal immigrants in Hazleton from the number of students who take English as a second language in the Hazleton Area School District.
The school’s Assistant Business Manager Robert Krizansky told him that the district enrolled 770 students in the ESL program.
“You don’t know that number,” plaintiff’s attorney Denise Alvarez said when cross-examining Camarota.
He said his work gave him a range within which he is confident the number falls.
Since Camarota talked with Krizansky, the district said that as of March 14, 1,004 students take ESL classes.
Hazleton is only part of the district, but Camarota estimated 80 percent of the ESL students live in the city because of its inexpensive housing. Based on that assumption and national ratio, he calculated the range of illegal immigrants.
Illegal immigrants pay less taxes because they have lower education and wages than the general public, Camarota said.
They also are less likely than the rest of the public to have health insurance, so they visit hospital emergency rooms, where they can’t be rejected, when they need health care. He said 35 percent of the illegal immigrants had health care, and the judge asked why the figure would be even that high.
Camarota said illegal immigrants might buy insurance or obtain it through their job or their spouse.
Asked by the city’s attorney, Kris Kobach, if he would be surprised to hear that the waiting room at Hazleton General Hospital is five to six hours long, Camarota said he wouldn’t be.
Kobach also Camarota to interpret earlier testimony from Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta and city Administrator Samuel Monticello that the income from the city’s wage tax remained flat even as population increased.
“That’s exactly the kind of pattern you would expect to see,” Camarota said.
He estimated 50 percent to 60 percent of illegal immigrants are paid “off the books” and taxes aren’t deducted from their pay.
National figures indicate illegal immigrants consumes $2,700 more in federal services than they pay in federal taxes. In state and local governments, the difference might be twice that high, he said.
How certain is he that illegal immigrants drain Hazleton’s budget, Kobach asked.
“I have no doubt. I’m 100 percent,” Camarota said.
Meanwhile, plaintiffs were 100 percent determined to stop Martin from testifying.
Attorney Foster Maer of one of the plaintiffs, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, said Martin was an advocate, not an expert. His organization, Federation for American Immigration Reform, helped draft Hazleton’s ordinance, Maer said.
Citing a criticism of a Texas official about a report written by Martin in his challenge, Maer stretched the hearing about Martin’s credentials to an hour.
When Martin was allowed to testify on limited subjects in a report he submitted to the court, his direct examination lasted 10 minutes.
Martin said Pennsylvania incarcerated the equivalent of 500 to 700 illegal immigrants per year in 2003. For Luzerne County that year, the most recent data available, the figure was the equivalent of 11 years.
The federal government reimburses prisons for confining illegal immigrants, but the payment covers just a fraction of costs, Martin said.
o Hazleton police learned about illegal immigrants working in a meat processing plant through confidential informants, Police Chief Robert Ferdinand testified.
To help Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the police attempted to gain information about workers at the Cargill plant in Hazle Township from a tax agency, Ferdinand said.
Because the plant is outside the city limits in Humboldt Indutrial Park, city police couldn’t subpoena the tax records, he said.
o Hazleton is experiencing a migration of people from Latin American countries, including Mexico, where Ferdinand lived for a summer.
He was an exchange student while earning his college degree in Spanish.
Does that help you as police chief, an attorney for the city, Andrew Adair, asked?
“Actually, it turned out to be pretty helpful,” said Ferdinand, noting his Spanish has gotten rusty since college.