The suit against Hazleton’s illegal immigration ordinance continued Friday morning in Scranton with the testimony of two City of Hazleton department heads and two Code Enforcement Officers.
Rick Wech, one of Hazleton’s Code Enforcement and Zoning Officers, was the first witness. Cross examined by Philadelphia attorney Ilan Rosenberg, Mr. Wech was quite cooperative, offering simple yes or no answers for most of his testimony.
The embattled ordinance mandates the Code Enforcement Officer to investigate “valid complaints” of possible violations. Mr. Wech testified that he wouldn’t know how to determine whether complaints were valid, that he had no training on enforcement of the ordinance, and that he had no training in verifying documents used to confirm the legal residency of individuals. Mr. Wech said he had never seen most of the documents the federal government uses in determining legal residency.
Next to testify was Robert Dougherty, Hazleton’s Director of Planning and Director of Public Works. As Director of Planning Mr. Dougherty oversees several city departments including the Zoning and Permits department, a subsidiary of which is the newly created Registration Office that would register all tenants and landlords under the disputed ordinances. Under cross-examination by plaintiff counsel Tom Fiddler, Mr. Dougherty was questioned extensively about the tenant registration ordinance, which requires all renters to register with the city, supplying proof of legal residency, in the form of photocopied identification documents. Under the ordinance, landlords are fined if they rent to unregistered tenants.
Mr. Dougherty testified that an English notice of the tenant registration ordinance was placed in the local newspaper; this is somewhat attributable to the English only ordinance, which is generally off-limits in this lawsuit as the defense agreed to concede it prior to the trial. Mr. Fiddler alluded that much of Hazleton’s substantial Hispanic population can’t read English. During direct examination Mr. Dougherty testified that violators would not generally be cited immediately when breaking laws they are unaware of. Hazleton’s “general approach to enforcing all ordinances is to try to clear up problems before issuing citations,” said Mr. Dougherty. So hypothetically, individuals not able to read English “would be contacted, and would have the opportunity to register before any citations would be issued.” For the record, Mr. Fiddler pointed out that the enjoined ordinance fails to stipulate such leniency.
The defense appears to be establishing a pattern of introducing and questioning witnesses on documents not yet shown to the court or plaintiff. Mr. Dougherty was questioned on a revised ordinance that was considered at last night’s Hazleton City Council meeting. When the plaintiff objected, the defense said they would have the ordinance faxed in and supplied to the court upon returning from lunch. Unlike yesterday, the city’s counsel did follow through on their promise.
Taking the stand after lunch as the day’s third witness was Paul Kattner, the city’s other code enforcement officer. Cross-examined by Tom Wilkinson, Mr. Kattner’s testimony was very much a mirror image of Mr. Wech’s. Mr. Kattner has no training in evaluating identification documents, has not read the ordinance he would be responsible to enforce, and before today had not seen the notice in the newspaper of the ordinance’s implementation.
Again there was discussion of the English only legislation, whereby English was to be Hazleton’s official language and all city documents and signs were to be written in no other language than English. Mr. Kattner testified that available in his office, there had been at least five forms or applications for various registrations and permits that had been translated, free of charge, into Spanish as a public service by Hazleton’s Spanish language newspaper. This free translation is significant because one of the reasons cited long before the trial by Mayor Barletta for the necessity of an English-only ordinance was the burden placed on the city’s finances by having to hire translators. Upon the ordinance’s passage, Mr. Kattner voluntarily delivered the Spanish city forms to the Mayor’s office. They have not been available to the public since, despite Judge James M. Munley’s order that the forms be returned to Mr. Kattner’s office.
The final witness of the day was Sam Monticello, the Director of Administration and Director of Community Development. Among Mr. Monticello’s many responsibilities is to prepare a budget and keep tabs on city revenue. Mr. Monticello, unlike previous city employees including the Mayor, admitted that Hazleton’s skyrocketing population is largely attributable to a Hispanic influx. Like Mr. Barletta, Mr. Monticello had no way of knowing what percentages of new citizens were undocumented.
Mr. Fiddler once again took the floor to question Mr. Monticello, where an in-depth examination of Hazleton’s budgets since 2000 ensued. Mr. Barletta testified yesterday that “If we do not control illegal immigration, we will be bankrupt soon.” But Mr. Monticello’s most recent budget narrative had no information regarding the expenses incurred by illegal aliens.
Court was suspended early on account of inclement weather, cutting Mr. Fiddler’s testimony short. He is to resume Monday. Also scheduled to appear are two expert witnesses: Dr. Stephen Yale-Lohr of Cornell (for the plaintiff) and Dr. George J. Borjas of Harvard (for the defense). If time allows, Hazleton Police Chief Robert Ferdinand will also testify.
Abe in Scranton