Mayor cracks down on illegal immigrants

By Liz Lavin
November 1, 2007

Megan Pellegrino

Hazelton, Pa., is the battleground in the fight over illegal immigrants. Leading the fight is Hazelton Mayor Lou Barletta. Barletta cites incidents in his town that have led him to become the spokesman for laws cracking down on illegal immigrants.

A 6-year-old girl was raped by an illegal immigrant.

A young woman’s apartment was broken into by an illegal immigrant and she was stabbed 37 times.

An elderly woman feels as though she is a “prisoner of her own home.” She fears sitting on her front porch because she is afraid of getting caught in the middle of an act of violence.

Hazleton, Pa. Mayor Lou Barletta listed these incidents in his city and asked about the victims’ human rights.

“No one will ever convince me to let people come here illegally,” Barletta said when asked what he says to critics who claim he is denying illegal immigrants of their basic human rights such as a place to live and work.

Tired of waiting for the federal government to take action about illegal immigration and witnessing his small town’s police department, health care system and schools deteriorating, Barletta decided to take a stand.

Barletta created an ordinance designed to prevent landlords and local businesses from renting to and hiring illegal immigrants. Landlords and businesses would face heavy fines or loss of their business for breaking the law under the ordinance. In addition, it requires renters to go to City Hall with documents proving they are in the country legally. The ordinance was struck down in July by a federal judge, who wrote: “Hazleton, in its zeal to control the presence of a group deemed undesirable, violated the rights of such people, as well as others within the community.

Hazleton used to be a safe place, an all-American town, where families from culturally diverse backgrounds had coexisted for generations. Barletta said Hazleton has always been accepting of immigrants, but the population of Hazleton has grown 50 percent since 2000 but the income tax has stayed the same. This means that illegal immigrants are not paying taxes but still using services. Barletta saw a change in his city.

For the size of the city, Hazleton should be equipped with 60 police officers but has only about half. Ten of the United State’s worst gangs call Hazleton home and therefore, a street crime unit of officers was put into place to identify and track gang members. Ninety percent of gang members are illegal aliens that target illegal alien children, Barletta said.

“Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than citizens born here in the United States because of criminal background checks. Illegal aliens are more likely to commit crimes because there is no background check and therefore no record of them,” Barletta said.

The gangs have infiltrated the school system. According to Brian Earley, a resident running for the school board, the schools in Hazleton cannot afford and do not have the space to give immigrant children a quality education because there just isn’t enough money, partly due to the fact that illegal immigrants are not contributing to taxes.

The health system is being affected. “Sixty-five percent of illegal aliens don’t have health insurance and the cost is being passed onto Americans that do pay,” Barletta said.

Critics have said that Barletta’s ordinance is causing racism and discrimination. Barletta believes that many illegal immigrants are here with honorable motives. “I’m not rolling in the welcome mat – I’m not. I just want them to come in the front door, not the back. That doesn’t seem racist to me. They have the right idea but they’re breaking the law.”

Liz Lavin

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