(A note about language: attorneys for both sides use the terms “illegal immigrants” and “illegal aliens” rather than our preferred term, “undocumented immigrants,” so I am using the first term to give a more accurate picture of what transpired in the courtroom.)
The combination of the post-lunch lull and a decidedly warm courtroom could have been a disaster, but the afternoon session trial turned out to be quite lively after City Council President Joseph Yanuzzi took the stand.
Under examination by plaintiff’s attorney Tom Wilkinson, it quickly became clear that the Hazleton City Council had acted with little information or preparation in passing their anti-immigrant ordinances. In the initial “Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance,” it states that “the People of the City of Hazleton find and declare: That illegal immigration leads to higher crime rates, contributes to overcrowded classrooms and failing schools, subjects our hospitals to fiscal hardship….”
One would have assumed that before passing a law making such claims, the City Council members would have done their homework, but under questioning it became clear that the amount of research they did on the subject wouldn’t even qualify for a high school term paper.
Despite the “findings” listed in the ordinance, the City Council never undertook a study or hired an outside consultant to review the perceived problem of illegal immigrants. They never brought their concerns about the alleged increase in the illegal immigrant population to the attention of ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement, formerly the INS) or Homeland Security, which have programs and grant money available to address these problems.
Yanuzzi testified that illegal immigrants increased violent crime in particular, but admitted that he had no statistics or other evidence to support that contention.
Who had informed the city council that illegal immigrants create increased crime? “Mayor Barletta.” Anyone else? “No. That was all I need,” said Yanuzzi.
The Hazleton City Council president also attested to the fact that they had never had any communication with the Hazleton Area School District, a separate government entity with a separate budget, about these allegedly overcrowded classrooms. They also had no testimony or statistics from the hospital about the financial hardships they supposedly faced because of illegal immigrants. Yanuzzi did add that he had spoken to someone from the hospital informally and anecdotally about the fact that illegal aliens are a drain on resources. Yanuzzi helpfully clarified that waiting times in the ER had greatly increased because “illegal immigrants use it to go in for splinters.”
Tensions erupted at the end of the day, when Wilkinson asked Yanuzzi if he now regretted the fact that the city council had not studied the issue more before passing the ordinance, given the potential harm it could cause. Yanuzzi responded, “Every law we make, somebody’s going to be hurt. There is no 100 percent. I pass the pooper-scooper law, what am I going to do – study that? We can’t have consultants come here every two seconds.”
“So removing these people from town who are working, living, employed is just the same thing as removing something off the sidewalk?” Wilkinson asked pointedly.
“You’re talking about a person that is, first off, illegal,” Yanuzzi said, starting to get agitated. At this point the judge broke in to stop the proceedings and soon ended the session for the day.
Incidentally, defense attorneys had made last-minute attempt to prevent Yanuzzi from testifying by citing “legislative privilege” in a motion they filed at 9 pm the night before, despite knowing for months that he was to be called. Judge Munley ruled against them, saying he didn’t like to be “ambushed.”
Sara in Philly in Scranton