Hazleton’s Illegal Immigration Relief Act ordinance was again under the microscope in courtroom 4 at the federal courthouse in Scranton. Under direct examination by ACLU legal director Vic Walczak, immigration expert Marc R. Rosenblum, a political science professor at the University of New Orleans who last year worked with Congress in drafting immigration reform, offered damning testimony of Hazleton’s ordinance and the voluntary federal verification programs it encourages Hazleton businesses to use. Mr. Rosenblum’s testimony articulated a lack of due diligence by the ordinance’s authors.
“Hazleton has changed the penalty structure” of immigration law, “making it harsher and shortening timelines.” According to Mr. Rosenblum the “best historical example” of anything comparable to Hazleton’s ordinance is Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). IRCA has had no effective curtailment of undocumented employment, “had the effect of driving down wages… for all U.S. workers,” and “has led to increased discrimination against Latinos.”
“Seven percent of employers admitted to the (Government Accountability Office) that, after IRCA passed, they stopped hiring Latinos,” Rosenblum stated.
“Hazleton’s ordinance eliminates due process” by only allowing three days for employers to come into compliance, upon receipt of a complaint. “It is a near certainty that legal citizens and immigrants will be victimized by the three day timeline.”
He claims that the complaint-based enforcement nature of the ordinance encourages discrimination, and that even the most “hardcore, restrictive [federal immigration reform] legislation doesn’t contemplate this sort of individual complaint based system.”
According to Mr. Rosenblum, Hazleton’s ordinance, in contrast with federal law, also requires businesses to verify the eligibility of their independent contractors. Perhaps the most severe difference between Hazleton and federal statutes is that the U.S. government requires that businesses must not knowingly hire ineligible workers, where Hazleton prohibits the employment of ineligible workers, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Mr. Rosenblum argues this encourages defensive non-hirings, which increases the chances of discrimination based on the “face test.” “The burdens are likely to be felt by Latinos” because “employers will assume that someone who looks Latino is more likely to be undocumented.”
The Basic Pilot Program, an optional electronic employment verification system run by the federal government, the use of which is highly encouraged by, and sometimes mandated by Hazleton’s ordinance, was a topic of extensive discussion this morning. It has historically been error prone, according to studies cited by Mr. Rosenblum.
Basic Pilot “wrongly non-confirms too many” because there are a “number of sources of error and opportunities for legal citizens and legal non-citizens to be not confirmed,” Mr. Rosenblum said. A common problem is the fact that information on legal immigrants does not get transferred into the databases that Basic Pilot checks in a timely manner. Name spellings and name orders of legal non-citizens authorized to work in the U.S. are often entered in error during registration of new persons. Also problematic are transposed social security numbers and birthdays for U.S. citizens.
Rosenblum claims this all leads to “a relatively high percentage of false negatives,” where “under 90% of legal non-citizens are confirmed.” This number may even be lower, as it appears to be based on the fact that “27% of persons tentatively non-confirmed who appeal are found to be legally employable.” And “73% of employers don’t properly notify employers [of their rights to appeal] when tentatively non-confirmed.”
Defense attorney Kris Kobach, who Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta admitted in yesterday’s testimony was the chief counsel in drafting the embattled legislation, took the opportunity to cross-examine Mr. Rosenblum. While previous witnesses have stuttered, stammered, and even changed the subject when asked for specific substantiation of their claims or conclusions, Mr. Rosenblum consistently cited specific studies, legislation, and previous expert opinion whenever pressed by Mr. Kobach.
The only exception to this was when Mr. Kobach asked Mr. Rosenblum whether he’s done any specific studies on, or had any statistics with regards to, the effects the specific ordinance in Hazleton. Mr. Rosenblum had to remind Mr. Kobach on several occasions that the ordinance in Hazleton is under injunction and never went into effect, therefore making it impossible to be studied.
Also somewhat dubious was Mr. Kobach’s introduction of, and questioning on, statistics from the updated Temple – Westat Immigration Reform Report, which is not yet publicly available. Mr. Rosenblum has repeatedly cited the most recent 2002 report. Neither Mr. Rosenblum nor the plaintiffs have seen, or were previously aware of, the statistics Mr. Kobach brought up.
Just before lunch break, Mr. Walczak asked Judge James M. Munley to order Mr. Kobach to produce these statistics. Mr. Kobach responded he “would be happy to do a web search” to try to find them.
Abe in Scranton
Special note: Thanks to Northeast Chapter board member Abe Allen for filling in on the blog!