Pa. town making it tough for newcomers
Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.)
Jul. 15, 2006

HAZLETON, Pa. - Sweating heavily because of the high-wattage television lights - and, perhaps, because of the bulletproof vest he wore under his shirt - Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta proclaimed Thursday a historic day, the beginning of an organized resistance to illegal immigration.

Despite impassioned pleas from Hispanic leaders and community activists, including one who said Hazleton was on its way to becoming America's first "Nazi city," the council voted 4-1 to approve an ordinance targeting undocumented residents that is believed to be the toughest of its kind in the country and is being used as a model elsewhere in Pennsylvania and in Florida and California.

Unless the new law is overturned by court challenge, and it faces a certain lawsuit, Hazleton will beginning punishing employers who hire undocumented immigrants and landlords who rent to them. And, from now on, all official written business in this old coal-region city must be conducted in English.
Leaders insist the ordinance must be viewed outside the context of the city's racial makeup, but it is indisputable that most of the migrants under discussion lately are members of a Hispanic population that has grown explosively in the past six years.

Dominicans, Mexicans, Salvadorans and natives of a dozen other Spanish-speaking nations have flocked here, lured by cheap housing and the promise of plentiful jobs at the area's industrial parks.

Many have come from New York City, fleeing the high cost of living and the pervasive sense of insecurity that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Tensions have grown ever higher as the largely White and traditionally insular city of about 30,000 has made room for Spanish-speakers who, many say, seem determined to resist assimilation.

In an interview with the Morning Call last summer, Barletta gave an upbeat assessment of the immigrant presence, comparing it to previous waves of immigration from Europe that included his own Italian forebears.

But shaken by a homicide, a playground shooting and other crimes involving migrants, he drafted the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, basing it on a similar act proposed in San Bernadino, Calif.

While San Bernardino's effort is hung up in court on a legal challenge, other communities are following Hazleton's lead. Avon Park and Palm Bay in Florida both are scheduled to vote this month on bills modeled after Hazleton's.

In Escondido, Calif., a councilwoman has proposed a bill based on Hazleton's. And on Tuesday, the supervisors in Hazle Township, which surrounds Hazleton and has about 9,200 residents, approved a measure similar to the city's.

"What you saw here tonight was a city that wants to take back what we're given here," Barletta said.