Hazleton (PA) Mayor Says Immigration Bill Puts "Amnesty First, Security Maybe???

The mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania whose hard-nosed response to illegal immigration has drawn national headlines, last week called for the defeat of the Administration-backed immigration bill now before the Senate.

Louis J. Barletta, City of Hazleton, Mayor

“Simply put, this bill is a case of amnesty first, border security second,” said Lou Barletta, the two-term Republican mayor who addressed his town’s mounting illegal immigration problem with tough sanctions against employers and landlords who knowingly hire and rent to those in the U.S. illegally. In an exclusive interview with HUMAN EVENTS, the 51-year-old Barletta said that “the probationary visas provided in the immigration bill are nearly as good as an amnesty because they provide immediately lawful status to all of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants here now.”

Barletta’s salvo against the Administration proposal came two weeks after he was overwhelmingly renominated in the Republican primary and actually won the Democratic nomination over a past mayor through write-in votes. The former Democratic mayor who lost to write-ins for Barletta had charged that the incumbent was “spending too much time” on the issue of illegal immigration.

“My first encounter with the issue of illegal immigrations was in my first year as mayor, when I inspected an overcrowded apartment with nine illegal immigrants — I thought it was unusual,” Barletta recalled, “Then in May of last year, a fourteen year old was arrested for firing a shot at the Pine Street Playground, a place I grew up playing in here. It was the result of a drug deal and the shooter turned out to be an illegal immigrant. And then last May, a fatal shooting occurred in the city. Remember — we’re a town of about 31,000, with thirty police officers, and where one murder occurs every seven years.”

Under the aegis of Barletta and Police Chief Robert Ferdinand, Hazleton’s small police force spent half of its overtime budget trying to solve the shooting. Eventually , they charged four men who turned out to be illegal aliens. A drug bust and threatening graffiti at the Pine Street Playground, both found to be the work of illegal aliens, convinced the mayor to take strong action. Accordingly, the City Council passed the Barletta-backed Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which suspend business licenses to employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens and also penalized landlords that rent to them.

The tough measure is now under a temporary restraining order, pending a suit from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Puerto Rican Legal and Defense Fund, and six other plaintiffs that is now before the U.S. District Court in Scranton. But prior to the suit. Barletta told us, his proposal was imitated by other towns and cities in the Philadelphia area and “you could see the [illegal] people leaving. . .there was nothing to keep them there when employers and landlords were going to check them out.”

“I Read Enough To Stop Reading”

Turning to the immigration bill supported strongly by the President and now before the Senate, Barletta said “you really get a different view of the issue when you’re a mayor.”

He pointed out that “30% of all the drug dealers we’ve had to grapple with in Hazleton are illegal aliens and 30% of the gang members are also illegal aliens. Do you think for a minute any would return to the country of their origin, pay $5000, submit to a criminal background check, as this legislation would require? No, they would just go further underground. They are not going to come forward, period.”

As to the insistence from White House Press Secretary Tony Snow and other Administration spokesman that the immigration bill is not an amnesty, Barletta shot back: “When you give all 12 million illegal aliens an immediate temporary visa, you are giving them probation and immediate legal status. And that’s an amnesty.”

Asked if he had read through the 392-page bill that the Senate will vote on this month, Barletta said: “I’ve read enough of it to stop reading!”

In his view, “so long as the border is open, the U.S. is not guaranteeing anything in terms of stopping illegal immigration. Why not deal with that first, and then deal with the issue of who is here and who should and shouldn’t be?” Barletta added that “not just the border along the Southern United States should be secure, but airports and seaports as well. There should also be more done to crack down on fraudulent document rings. When we captured the drug dealers of the Pine Street Playground, we found they were operating under five different names with five different identification cards.

The mayor believes strongly that federal authorities must delegate more power to local authorities to deal with illegal immigrants and whether or not they should be deported. As he told us, “The legal status of aliens should always be left up to the federal government. However, the immigration laws should be amended to allow local district attorneys to prosecute, detain, and deport illegal immigrants and then be reimbursed for the cost. The local prosecutors can handle cases on an individual basis and know who is sincere about becoming a citizen and who is here for criminal purposes and should be sent home.”

But the “must do” measure to combat illegal immigration, Barletta emphasized, is that which he sponsored and which is now on hold in court. “If businesses fear repercussions,” he said, “the jobs won’t be there and the illegal immigrants won’t come here.”