Hazelton, Pa., Mayor Louis J. Barletta
WASHINGTON – Who says you can’t fight city hall?
In Hazelton, Pa., the American Civil Liberties Union is fighting the local government. Hispanic activist groups have joined the suit, attempting to block implementation of a law designed to restrict activities by illegal aliens. And a Bill Clinton-appointed U.S. judge who already temporarily has blocked the law approved by local officials will hear the case over the next two weeks.
It is the first federal trial to explore whether local governments may act on their own to curb illegal immigration allowed by the federal government.
At the forefront of the landmark action by a city government fed up with the effects of illegal immigration is Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who says the illegal aliens are destroying the quality of life in his small northeastern Pennsylvania city and costing the local treasury millions.
Meanwhile, activists on the other side say the law approved by the town is unconstitutional. Judge James Munley, who barred enforcement pending the outcome of the non-jury trial, will hear the case.
“This is the day we’ve been waiting for a long time,” Barletta said outside the federal courthouse today. “Small cities can no longer sit back and wait for the federal government to do something.”
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.
Several other 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.
The Hazleton measures 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 officials said illegal immigrants have committed at least 47 crimes since last spring. 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, say city officials.
Last fall, the same judge who will hear the case blocked implementation of the law saying landlords, tenants and businesses that cater to Hispanics faced “irreparable harm” from the laws.
“We find it in the public interest to protect residents’ access to homes, education, jobs and businesses,” he wrote in a 13-page opinion. He rejected pleas by city officials saying they offered “only vague generalizations about the crime allegedly caused by illegal immigrants” and contending they had “nothing concrete to back up these claims.”