Thursday, September 21, 2006

More local governments across the country are trying to get tough on businesses that encourage illegal entry into the United States, saying they are frustrated both by Congress’ failure to stop it and by rising crime perpetrated by illegal aliens in their own communities.

Mayor Lou Barletta of Hazleton, Pa., estimates that as “many as half” of the estimated 10,000 Hispanics who were living in Hazleton when it passed an ordinance in July to punish those who hire or house illegal aliens have since left the city.

“We’ve been notified by some 30 other cities in the United States that are waiting to process such ordinances,” he said yesterday in an interview.

In Valley Park, Mo., 20 immigrant families disappeared virtually overnight from a high-crime apartment complex, and at least dozens quickly left Riverside, N.J., this summer when those two small towns passed laws cracking down on employers who hire illegal aliens and landlords who rent to them.

Legislation enacted this week in Suffolk County, N.Y., bars contracts with employers who hire illegal aliens, and a measure that would closely resemble the one enacted in Hazleton will be considered next week in Altoona, Pa.

“Our purpose was a matter of public safety, since there was too much overcrowding and a serious fire” in a house filled with illegal aliens, said Mayor Charles Hilton of Riverside, a blue-collar town of 8,000 on the Delaware River that enacted its ordinance in July.

“Serious crime, including murder and assault, doubled in Hazleton between 2004 and 2005,” said Mr. Barletta, who cited a killing in May for which an illegal alien has been charged.

Mike White, chairman of the Board of Aldermen in Valley Park, said that “it turns out a fair number of people were living and working here illegally, and we recognized we had to do something and do it fairly. Jobs are the magnet that draws illegals here, and the idea is to take away that magnet.”

According to information provided by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) and the National Association of Counties, laws have been passed in at least nine local jurisdictions from South Carolina to California and are under consideration in 31 others.

“The reality is these ordinances create division in a community, and the motivation for them is political,” said Cesar Perales, president of PRLDEF, which is suing to overturn the Hazleton law that prompted action in other locations.

Mr. Perales and other critics of such legislation say the immigration issue properly and by Supreme Court precedent belongs to the federal government. But those backing the local measures counter that other levels of government have a role, pointing to a 1986 federal law that recognizes licensing businesses as traditionally a local matter.

Bob Alexander, solicitor for Altoona, said the immigration ordinance on which the seven-member City Council will vote Tuesday has the support of Mayor Wayne Hippo and “was crafted very narrowly within the confines of our authority.”

Crime by illegal aliens is a big concern in the city of 50,000, Mr. Alexander said. “Just last week there were two trials in which the people convicted were illegals. One defendant was a triple murderer and the second a drug-dealer.”

Mr. Barletta said he signed two ordinances yesterday: one that allows “legal employees to sue employers who hire illegals for lost wages” going to people hired unlawfully, and one making English the official language of Hazleton.

Pennsylvania is leading the country in terms of interest in measures such as those of Hazleton, Riverside and Suffolk County. Four Pennsylvania jurisdictions have enacted them, and another 19, including cities such as Wilkes-Barre and Allentown, are considering them. Locations where such proposals have been rejected include Palm Bay and Avon Park, Fla; Kennewick, Wash.; Forty Fort, Pa.; and Clarksville, Tenn.

States also have been busy enacting legislation designed to deter employers from hiring illegals. Sixteen such bills have been passed in eight states this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

• Researcher Amy Baskerville contributed to this report.

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