- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2007

SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — No evidence backs up the Hazleton mayor’s accusation that illegal aliens are destroying the quality of life in his city, an ACLU attorney told a judge yesterday at the start of the first federal trial on local efforts to curb illegal entry.

“Even if illegal immigrants really are wreaking havoc on Hazleton, that doesn’t change the legal analysis” that the former coal town’s crackdown on illegal aliens usurps the federal government’s role, said Witold Walczak, the Pennsylvania legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Last summer, Hazleton officials enacted the city’s Illegal Immigration Relief Act, imposing fines on landlords who rent to illegal aliens and denying business permits to companies that employ them. Another measure requires tenants to register with City Hall.

Hispanic groups and the ACLU have sued, contending the measures are unconstitutional.

The judge barred enforcement of the Hazleton measures pending the outcome of the non-jury trial, which is expected to last two weeks. Dozens of cities and towns across the country have followed Hazleton’s lead.

“This is the day we’ve been waiting for for a long time,” Mayor Lou Barletta said outside the federal courthouse yesterday. “Small cities can no longer sit back and wait for the federal government to do something.”

Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri law professor representing Hazleton in the case, said the town has welcomed immigrants throughout its history, from Irish in the 19th century to Italians in the early 20th century and Hispanics in the 1980s and 1990s.

But after 2000, “something had changed. Hazleton had seen new criminals and new sorts of crime,” said Mr. Kobach, who was an immigration adviser under Attorney General John Ashcroft.

The city had one homicide in 1994 and didn’t have another until 2001, he said. Five homicides were committed in 2005 and last year, with aliens suspected in all six, Mr. Kobach said.

In court papers, Hazleton officials said illegal aliens have committed at least 47 crimes since last spring, consuming much of the city’s police overtime budget. Illegal aliens 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.

In response to the ACLU argument, Mr. Kobach said Congress had clearly stated its intent that states and municipalities can help the federal government enforce immigration law. He noted that in 1996, Congress required them to determine the immigration status of anyone seeking public benefits.

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