Despite not taking stand to testify yet, Barletta plays major role in proceedings
Tuesday, 13 March 2007
By KENT JACKSON
email@example.com Hazleton Standard Speaker
SCRANTON – Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta didn’t testify on the opening day of the trial challenging an immigration law that he proposed last year, but he factored in the courtroom discussions Monday. Plaintiff’s Attorney Vic Walczak called Barletta an “opportunistic mayor.”
The news program “60 Minutes,” National Public Radio and CNN interviewed Barletta, who spoke at Washington rallies and Republican fundraisers and testified before the U.S. Senate, Walczak said.
“Introduction of the ordinance made Mayor Barletta an overnight sensation,” he said.
NPR, The New York Times, the Associated Press and Reuters were among the news outlets that joined local media covering the trial’s opening, an indication that the attention toward the act remains strong as the nation debates immigration policy.
Barletta appeared on CNN with show host Lou Dobbs live Monday night from in front of the courthouse.
Kris Kobach, an attorney for Hazleton, said Barletta backed the act after seeing crime escalate and city services paid out for illegal immigrants. He researched immigration and read a report by Bear Stearns that pegged the net cost to states and municipalities from illegal immigration at $65 billion a year.
“He decided something needed to be done to protect the city he grew up in, the city he loved,” Kobach said.
Walczak said Barletta focused on the costs of immigration, but not its benefits, and the plaintiffs called Dr. Agapito Lopez, a Hazleton eye surgeon, to testify about the boost that Latinos gave to the city’s economy.
Lopez said Hazleton was a ghost town in 2001, but the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11 that year drove Latinos out of New York City to Hazleton.
“With people seeing the low-priced property in Hazleton there was an opportunity to move here and have a better life,” Lopez said.
He said the new arrivals were entrepreneurial and opened 70 businesses by 2005, during a period when Anglo developers were renovating the Markle Building, the Hazleton Downtown Athletic Club and Hazle Drugs in the city’s central business district.
During that period, Lopez said, he supported Barletta, whom he said helped find fields on which Latino children could play baseball and renovated in the Pine Street Playground in a neighborhood that has a considerable Latino population.
His support vanished when Barletta backed the Illegal Immigration Reform Act, which strips businesses of licenses if they hire illegal immigrants and fines landlords for renting to people who aren’t legal residents of the country.
“I was appalled,” Lopez said, “because I had not received any notice from city council or the mayor, and I had just met with them two months ago.
“This ordinance came out of nowhere. They are restricting … the occupation of homes and to be able to work to many of the immigrant workers … It was hurting my people. Latinos are like a family.”
Lopez said some businesses closed and some Latinos left town after the ordinance was proposed.
While cross-examining Lopez, the city’s lead attorney Henry “Hank” Mahoney named business such as Michael’s Taxi and Crystal Barbecue that Latinos opened since the ordinance passed. Owners invited Barletta to their grand openings, Mahoney said.
During cross-examination, Lopez said he believes nations have the right to control their borders and deport people but thinks the United States government should deal with immigration, not small cities all over the country.
“Do you believe an illegal immigrant has the right to work in the city of Hazleton?” Mahoney asked.
“No,” replied Lopez, a veteran of the U.S. Army, who said one of his five children is an immigration agent in Chicago.