Day III of the Hazleton anti-immigrant trial kicked off today with testimony from Manuel Saldaña, president of Casa Dominicana of Hazleton, a plaintiff in the suit. Mr. Saldaña testified about the impact of the ordinance on life in the town, as witnesses before him have done.
“I thought that it would cause much confusion and nervousness for residents- Hispanic residents of Hazleton- given that no one has a sign on their forehead with their legal status,” he said.
But the stars of the morning were ACLU-PA legal director Vic Walczak and Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta, who took the stand around 10:30.
Vic started the questioning by painting the picture of Hazleton and led Mayor Barletta in that direction. They talked about the mayor’s decision to reduce the police force at a time when the city’s population was increasing. The Department of Justice recommends 2 police officers per 1,000 residents. In 2000 with a population of 23,000, Hazleton had 42 police officers. Due to budget issues, the force went down to 23 officers in 2001, according to the mayor’s testimony. In January of last year, the force was up to 27 to 30 officers, according to the mayor, and is now at 33, still nine officers below its 2000 numbers and, with a population today of 30-33,000, well-below the DOJ’s recommendation of 60 officers for a city that size.
But crime is the fault of “illegal aliens.” (Take note that the mayor just walked by me as I typed that. But he didn’t look at my laptop.)
Barletta characterized the decisions about the police force as “unpopular decisions.”
Vic also raised reports that property values and assessed values have increased for three straight years, the first time that has happened since 1995-97.
Several times, the mayor appeared to be unnerved by Vic’s questioning. Vic asked him if undocumented immigrants engage in “consumer spending.” At this, Barletta became agitated about discussing the economic value of “illegal aliens,” but Vic cut him off by saying, “I’m not asking you for a value judgment.”
Later, Vic asked the mayor if he and the city solicitor discussed NAFTA, the United States’ treaty obligations, the presidents of Guatemala and Mexico, or the implications for the country if every U.S. city passed an ordinance like Hazleton’s. The answer, obviously, was no.
More to come later today.
Andy in Harrisburg in Scranton