“Small Town Defenders” Pass Anti-Immigrant Measures

The small, coal-country city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania has passed into law an ordinance “designed to make the city among the most hostile places in the United States for illegal immigrants to live or work,” the AP reports. The measure “would deny licenses to businesses that employ illegal immigrants, fine landlords $1,000 [per day] for each illegal immigrant discovered renting their properties, and require city documents to be in English only.” Mayor Louis Barletta – who wore a bulletproof vest to the meeting, although he had not received any threats – said, “The illegal citizens, I would recommend they leave.”

Barletta put Hazleton in the middle of the national immigration debate last month when he proposed the ordinance:

“Illegal immigrants are destroying the city,” said Mayor Lou Barletta, a Republican. “I don’t want them here, period.” …

Barletta said he had to act after two illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic were charged last month with shooting and killing a man. Other recent incidents involving illegal immigrants have rattled this former coal town 80 miles northwest of Philadelphia, including the arrest of a 14-year-old boy for firing a gun at a playground.

“This is crazy,” said Barletta, who took office in 2000. “People are afraid to walk the streets. There’s going to be law and order back in Hazleton and I’m going to use every tool I possibly can.”

Barletta spoke at the Senate’s immigration hearing in Philadelphia, telling the panel that immigrants had “terrorized” his city, and he appeared on CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight, saying that “senior citizens are afraid to walk the street.” And, with the help of staffers from Republican Sen. Rick Santorum’s re-election campaign, he started a website, “Small Town Defenders.”

But less than a year ago, Barletta had a different interpretation of the city’s recent growth in its Hispanic population. The Los Angeles Times points to an article in the Northeast Pennsylvania Business Journal from October, 2005:

Hazleton Mayor Louis J. Barletta comments that the city hasn’t witnessed the current level of economic activity in many decades. He says the region’s new ethnic and cultural diversity has been vital for urban rejuvenation, as Hazleton’s urban population has increased.

“The fact is that Hazleton had an aging population like much of the Northeast, and the influx of diversity here has brought in a new population with quite a few younger citizens,” says Mayor Barletta. “Many of our new business owners are much younger, and we’ve had more than 250 new businesses open since 2000. We’re seeing young people on the streets again.”

Mayor Barletta also points to the 2005 FUNFEST as an example of Hazleton’s diversity working together. He states that superior planning and a good police presence may have played a role in the event’s overall smoothness.

“We had a very good crowd, and this realty disproves the ideas of people who criticize diversity,” says Mayor Barletta. “Criticism is the easy way out for some people.”

(The mayor added in the 2005 article that nevertheless, there were “negative elements” and “we’re trying to remove them. But, this is a very small percentage of our total population.”)

The Hazleton Standard-Speaker captured the atmosphere at city hall yesterday as the ordinance was passed:

A group of people began passing out signs, T-shirts, small American flags and candles for the opponents. One shirt read, “I am Hispanic not a criminal.” “Proud to speak Cervantes language,” one sign said. “Fight crime in the community, don’t fight the whole community,” another read.

One of the first to arrive with the most vocal section of the ordinance’s proponents carrying a cardboard sign reading, “If you can read this sign, thank a Marine,” stood on the corner of Church and Maple streets. “If you’re here, speak English,” he shouted. Three to five cars passing beeped in support of his sign.

As more proponents arrived, the first confrontation of the night unfolded with no physical violence. A Latino man told the man with the sign that an acquaintence of his served in the military while an illegal immigrant as foreign national, prompting a heated argument.…

“I don’t need Latinos to fight for me. I’ll fight for myself,” the man screamed. …

Soon after 8:40 p.m., a reporter from one of the local television stations approached the vocal group and told them of the ordinance’s passage, prompting a great deal of cheering and applause.

A man rushed out waving an American flag on the corner of Green and Church as the news of the passage began to filter out.

Proponents began chanting, “USA! USA! USA!”