In the afternoon session at the Hazleton anti-immigrant trial, three Hazleton residents testified that the ordinance negatively impacted life in the city.
“Everything has totally changed,” said local businessman Jose Lechuga, who noted that racism and “hatred” became more prominent after the passing of the ordinance.
Through an interpreter, Lechuga talked about his neighbor, who previously seemed to trust him. “One day I asked her what she thought of Mr. Barletta’s ordinances,” he said. “She said that if you speak English, you’re not a criminal.”
Lechuga also talked about an incident in which several men followed him into his store and told him that he would have to change his signs from Spanish to English. “I wondered what was going on, why would I have to change my signs.”
Immediately after the lunch break and before Lechuga’s testimony, Dr. Agapito Lopez talked about the change in the Latino community after the passing of the ordinance. “You could see the fear in their eyes.”
Dr. Lopez also addressed the impact on the entire Latino community–citizens, documented, and undocumented.
“Latinos are like a family,” Dr. Lopez said. “What affects one of us affects all of us.”
This point in particular seems lost on the nearly-all-white defense team, which has worked tirelessly this first day to draw lines between undocumented immigrants (or “illegal aliens,” to use their words) and citizens and documented immigrants.
On cross-examination, defense counsel asked Lechuga if the customers of his grocery store were documented and undocumented immigrants.
“I don’t think that’s my job to find out,” Lechuga replied.
Throughout the afternoon, the defense team has attempted to show that the Lechuga’s businesses were failing before the ordinance and that documented immigrants had nothing to fear from the new law. The testimony of Dr. Lopez and Mr. Lechuga, along with Rosa Lechuga, Jose’s wife, and Pedro Lozano, who also testified this afternoon, made it clear that there was a marked difference in the business climate and the neighborhood environment after the passing of the ordinance last summer.
In fact, the Lechugas have lived in Hazleton since 1991 but are currently in the process of relocating to Arkansas.
When proceedings ended for the day, our team briefly addressed the media and addressed yet another change to the ordinance, which defense counsel referred to in its opening statement.
Both ACLU-PA legal director Vic Walczak and ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said that the change doesn’t affect the impact of the ordinance.
“The ordinance turned the city into a climate of xenophobia,” Romero said. “It turned citizen against citizen.
“The intent of the ordinance was to promote discrimination.”
Andy in Harrisburg in Scranton