- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 22, 2007

From combined dispatches

SCRANTON, Pa. — A Pennsylvania town unfairly blames illegal aliens for crime and its financial woes, critics of Hazleton’s anti-illegals law said yesterday in closing arguments in a landmark trial on the measure.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said at the end of the nine-day trial that Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, who led the effort to pass the law that denies business licenses to firms that hire illegal aliens and fines landlords who rent rooms to them, ignored evidence that undercut his claims that illegal aliens overburdened city services and fueled gang-related crime.

“The mayor says he doesn’t need figures,” Witold “Vic” Walczak, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Pennsylvania, told the court. “The truth is, he doesn’t want figures because they don’t support the story that he wants to tell.

“To lay the problems at the feet of undocumented immigrants is unfair,” he said.

Attorneys for the city rejected those arguments and used statistics to justify the law.

“These ordinances were painstakingly drafted. The constitutional violations are imagined,” said Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri law professor.

Mr. Kobach said that illegal aliens were involved in 19 serious crimes in 2006, up from five in 2005, and that a third of gang-related arrests in the past two years had been of illegal aliens. Uninsured illegal aliens also cost the local hospital’s emergency room $8 million last year, he said.

The ACLU and other groups sued Hazleton after the passage in July of the Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance, which has not been implemented because of a court injunction. The law has been copied by about 70 communities across the U.S.

Mr. Walczak’s team argued that the federal government has exclusive power over immigration policy, but the city disagreed, saying Congress had intended states and municipalities to help enforce immigration law. It noted, for example, that Congress in 1996 required states to determine the immigration status of anyone seeking public benefits.

Mr. Kobach called the plaintiffs’ legal theories silly, deriding in particular the testimony of one expert witness who said only an immigration judge can determine immigration status.

“If you sneak across the border, the moment you step in the country is when you’re illegal, not when some judge says two years later, ‘We’re going to deport you,’ ” he said.

The court is expected to rule within three months. Both sides have said they will appeal if they lose.

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