- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2006

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — A federal judge yesterday blocked the city of Hazleton from enforcing a pair of ordinances targeting illegal aliens, just hours before the measures were to go into effect.

The measures, approved by the City Council last month, would have imposed fines on landlords who rent to illegal aliens and denied business permits to companies that give them jobs.

They also would have required tenants to register with City Hall and pay for a rental permit.

U.S. District Judge James M. Munley ruled that landlords, tenants and businesses that cater to Hispanics faced “irreparable harm” from the laws and issued a temporary restraining order blocking their enforcement.

“We find it in the public interest to protect residents’ access to homes, education, jobs and businesses,” Judge Munley, a 1998 appointee of President Clinton, wrote in a 13-page opinion.

The nation’s first-of-its-kind law had been scheduled to take effect today in Hazleton, a small hillside city in northeastern Pennsylvania. But evidence suggests that even before the judge’s decision, many Hispanics — illegal or otherwise — already had left, hobbling the city’s Hispanic business district.

Elvis Soto’s variety store used to make money, but few customers have been walking through his door lately, and his merchandise — calling cards, cell phones, car stereos, clothing — is collecting dust on the shelves. With bills mounting, Mr. Soto might have to take another job to stay afloat financially, and may even close the store.

“Before, it was a nice place,” said Mr. Soto, 27, who came to the United States from the Dominican Republic a decade ago. “Now, we have a war against us. I am legal, but I feel the pressure also.”

Mayor Lou Barletta, chief proponent of the new law, contends illegal aliens have brought drugs, crime and gangs, overwhelming police and municipal budgets. He announced the crackdown in June, a month after two illegal aliens from the Dominican Republic were charged in a fatal shooting.

“These ordinances are nothing more than an officially sanctioned witch hunt,” said Cesar Perales, president of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a group representing plaintiffs in the case. They include the Hazleton Hispanic Business Association, several illegal aliens, landlords and a restaurateur.

The mayor said he would fight all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, saying the ordinance is “as bulletproof as we can get it.”

Hispanics began settling in large numbers in Hazleton several years ago, lured from New York, Philadelphia and other big cities by cheap housing, low crime and the availability of work in nearby factories and farms. The city, situated 80 miles from Philadelphia, estimates its population has increased from 23,000 to 31,000 over the past six years, with Hispanics now representing 30 percent of the population.

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