Hazleton Mayor Has Trouble Backing up Claims of Immigrant Crime Wave: 'The People in My City Don't Need Numbers'

Hazleton, Pennsylvania Mayor Lou Barletta made national headlines last year when he pushed through an ordinance cracking down on undocumented immigrants, not only setting penalties for employers who hire them but also fining landlords who rent to them $1,000 per day. “Illegal immigrants are destroying the city,” declared the self-styled “small town defender,” who also signed an English-only measure. “I don't want them here, period.” As this blog pointed out, this was a sudden transformation for Barletta, who just months before had cited “the region’s new ethnic and cultural diversity” as cause for Hazleton’s unprecedented economic boom and “urban rejuvenation.” As Barletta testified before Congress and appeared on CNN’s “Lou Dobbs,” while cutting robocalls for Sen. Rick Santorum’s failed reelection campaign, his ordinance and copy-cat measures in other small cities began to tear apart communities.

How did Barletta come to decide on this dramatic course of action? Well, he poked around the Internet and found the website of Save Our State, run by Jim Turner, a “proud nationalist” who unsuccessfully pushed the measures in San Bernadino, California in order to ward off the threat from inferior cultures who would turn ours into a “Third World cesspool.”

This governance technique of finding model legislation by lurking on nativist Internet forums was one interesting fact revealed Wednesday during Barletta’s testimony in a federal lawsuit challenging the ordinances. Far more damning was Barletta’s inability to support his rhetoric accusing undocumented immigrants of “destroying the city”:

During five hours on the witness stand, Mr. Barletta said Hazleton is being ruined by violent crime, crowded schools and a clogged emergency room at the city's private hospital. He attributed many of the problems to what he called "illegal aliens," even though he admitted he had no idea how many such immigrants are in his city.

Lawyer Witold Walczak, of the American Civil Liberties Union, got the mayor to concede that he could not name a single instance where illegal immigrants had received service from Hazleton's fire department or health offic[e]. Mr. Barletta also was forced to admit he had no proof that illegal immigrants were the source of schools so crowded that numerous classes have to be taught in trailers. …

Mr. Barletta said crimes committed by illegal immigrants led to the controversial ordinances.  … Mr. Walczak, though, said Hazleton's own statistics show that illegal immigrants have committed only a handful of serious crimes. Of the 8,575 felonies in the city since 2000, about 20 were linked to illegal immigrants, Mr. Walczak said.

Barletta came back yesterday to face evidence of the lack of an immigrant crime wave:

 “When you have violent crimes committed, it takes away and chews at our quality of life. I don’t need numbers. These people,” he said, motioning to the opposing attorney, who have criticized his lack of statistics, “need numbers. The people in my city don’t need numbers.”