The afternoon session of Day III of the Hazleton anti-immigrant trial in Scranton featured Mayor Lou Barletta on the stand all afternoon, and he spent much of that time explaining his understanding of the various ordinances the city passed to “make Hazleton the toughest city for illegal aliens in the country.”
Vic started by using the language of the ordinance, which states the usual claims about the negative impact of undocumented immigrants on crime, schools, and public services. It became clear that there are no statistics on how often city services- be it fire, code enforcement, garbage collection, or others- are used for undocumented immigrants. Frustrated, Barletta responded.
“Here’s what I do know,” the mayor said. “Every time we send a code officer, every time we send a firefighter, every time we send a city official to deal with a situation with illegal immigrants it affects the city of Hazleton.”
Vic’s questions were yes and no questions, i.e. “Do you have data on how many fire calls were for illegal immigrants,” so after the mayor attempted to pontificate a few times, Vic replied, “Mayor, can we agree that you’ve now made your speech?”
Barletta responded, “That’s not a speech. Those are facts.” Eventually, Judge Munley had to step in to explain to Barletta that yes and no answers suffice in response and a “brief explanation” would be allowed only “if necessary.”
Since last summer, the mayor has been talking about the impact of undocumented immigrants on Hazleton’s schools, of which the city has no jurisdiction, as Barletta admitted under oath. He estimated that 15 or 16 municipalities make up the Hazleton Area School District and noted that he does not know how many students are “illegal aliens.”
But he stated that an increase in the English as a Second Language (ESL) budget to more than $1 million this year is a sign that illegal immigrants have increased in the area. Via questioning from Vic, the mayor admitted that legal immigrants also need ESL and agreed “that’s a good thing” since he has been pushing for new immigrants to learn English.
Continuing on education, Vic asked if the mayor has data on average test scores at Hazleton schools since the ordinance states that illegal immigrants contribute to “failing schools” or if he knows if the school’s current scores are higher or lower than three years ago. The mayor said he “read an article” in a local paper that quoted a school official who was concerned about test scores.
The mayor and his supporters have been hanging their hat on the impact that undocumented immigrants have on crime. Although crime statistics will be discussed in greater detail later in the week when the Hazleton chief of police takes the stand, Vic and Barletta explored the issue.
As revealed under questioning, an article in the Hazleton Standard Speaker cited 47 crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in “the greater Hazleton area” (the city, the borough of West Hazleton, and Hazle Township) in 2006.
According to the city police department, there were 1400 crimes in the city alone in 2006.
“I didn’t need numbers,” the mayor said. “That was given to you because you wanted numbers.”
Vic also asked about the “287g process,” which is a program of the federal government that trains state and local law enforcement to assist with immigration enforcement.
Although illegal immigrants are “destroying” Hazleton, as the mayor told the Philadelphia Inquirer in July of last year, the city has yet to sign up for the program, which came out in today’s testimony. Barletta stated that the police chief is looking into that possibility.
The lawyer and the witness spent the late afternoon vetting the machinations of the ordinance and how it will function. Although his outward appearance was one of self-confidence, the mayor’s own words suggested uncertainty on how the city will determine a person’s status. At one point, he said that it would be done through the Department of Homeland Security, but 2 minutes later he stated that it would be done through the Department of Justice.
The city does not yet have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with any federal agency to perform this task, and when Vic asked, “No one has told you that you’re getting an MOU, is that correct,” the mayor responded, “Not at this time.”
In fact, the city only signed up to participate in the Basic Pilot Program as an employer in late October, three months after the passing of the first ordinance when city officials were stating that illegal immigrants were destroying the city. (The Basic Pilot Program is an electronic service run by the feds that employers may sign up for to verify an employee’s status.)
Tomorrow Mayor Barletta will be back on the stand to face questioning from his own counsel. Before he testifies, though, the plaintiffs will call Professor Marc Rosenblum of the University of New Orleans, whose areas of expertise include political science and immigration.
Andy in Harrisburg in Scranton