It would seem from Mayor Barletta’s accounts that Hazleton would be virtually free of crime, were it not for illegal immigrants.
Mr. Barletta wore a bulletproof vest to the July meeting at which the city council approved his immigration ordinance on a 4-1 vote. Detractors say he was being melodramatic, but the mayor contends emotions were running high. He also says it was a crime wave that motivated him to push through the immigration law.
For him, the turning point was May 10, when two men shot and killed 29-year-old Derek Kichline on a Hazleton street. Both suspects are illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Mr. Barletta said.
“This is a town where a murder might happen every seven years,” he said. “It’s unusual to have violence here. Then we had the shooting of Derek Kichline in broad daylight.”
Police records differ with the mayor’s account, placing the time of the killing at 11:40 p.m. Prosecutors have said the crime was not random, but have not discussed a motive.
Mr. Barletta said the killing marked the beginning of a crime spree, much of it by people who should not have been in Hazleton to begin with.
Not surprisingly, the facts don’t seem to support Mr. Barletta. In fact, just last week in Hazleton there was a tragic shooting that resulted in the wounding of two police officers and the death of one man.
And unless George Thomas Deeb is an illegal immigrant from Western Europe, there would seem to be no way that even Mayor Barletta could blame the incident on illegal immigration (though you never know).
Of course, Mayor Barletta also keeps claiming that he doesn’t have enough police officers. Is it possible that any observed spike of violence may actually be caused by not having enough officers on the streets? In any event, Hazleton is having some budgetary issues.
Critics, such as environmentalist Phil Kaufman of West Hazleton, say Mr. Barletta has seized on the immigration issue to lessen scrutiny of his performance.
“The so-called illegal aliens are not the problem,” Mr. Kaufman said. “But the mayor likes to talk about illegal immigration because it removes the focus from how poorly managed city government is.”
Hazleton likely will have a budget deficit this year, Mr. Barletta concedes. The $7.5 million general operating budget has been flat for years, despite his contention that growth has seized the town and created more businesses.
For a mayor, having enough police officers is a growth and a fiscal challenge–though maybe it’s easier to blame your administrative shortcomings on illegal immigrants.
In fact, contrary to popular opinion, it seems that an influx of immigrants (including illegal immigrants) into an area actually may cause crime rates to fall.
Lisa in Pittsburgh