Pennsylvania City To Defend Illegal Immigrant Crackdown
Monday, March 12th 2007, 7:46 am
By: News On 6
SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) _ Nearly a year after the city of Hazleton began a high-profile campaign to rid itself of illegal immigrants, opponents of the crackdown are getting their day in court.
A trial opening Monday pits Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who says illegal immigrants are destroying the quality of life in his small northeastern Pennsylvania city, against the ACLU and Hispanic groups who contend that the laws are unconstitutional.
``This is the day we've been waiting for for a long time,'' Barletta said outside the federal courthouse Monday. ``Small cities can no longer sit back and wait for the federal government to do something.''
It will be the first federal trial in the nation to explore whether local governments may act on their own to curb illegal immigration.
Dozens of cities and towns around the country have followed Hazleton's lead, approving laws ranging from penalizing companies that employ illegal immigrants to making English the official language of local government.
Hazleton's Illegal Immigration Relief Act would impose fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and deny business permits to companies that employ them. A companion measure requires tenants to register with City Hall.
U.S. District Judge James Munley, who will preside over the non-jury trial, barred enforcement of the laws pending the outcome of the case. The trial is expected to last two weeks.
The Hazleton laws were prompted by a number of high-profile crimes involving illegal immigrants. Two illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic were charged in May 2006 with shooting and killing a 29-year-old man, and a 14-year-old boy was arrested for firing a gun at a playground.
In court papers, Hazleton said illegal immigrants have committed at least 47 crimes since last spring, consuming much of the city's police overtime budget. Illegal immigrants were the subject of one-third of all drug arrests in 2005, and they have driven up the costs of health care and education, the city said.
Cesar Perales, president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, said at a news conference Sunday in Hazleton that most Latinos are in town legally, noting that Puerto Ricans are American citizens.
The ordinance turns neighbor against neighbor, Perales said, because residents who suspect someone is an illegal immigrant can report them to city officials.
``People feel harassed and hassled by this ordinance,'' he said.