One of the biggest issues facing the new Congress is what to do about immigration policy and what to do about the estimated 10 million illegal immigrants now living in the U.S. Not that long ago it was a problem in a half dozen border states, today it impacts virtually the entire country.
Frustrated with the lack of action in Washington, local communities are taking matters into their own hands, by passing laws and ordinances specifically designed to drive illegal immigrants out of their towns. And they are doing by denying them places to live and work. It has raised all sorts of issues and touched off a legal fight that is likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme court. And as correspondent Steve Kroft reports, it's being fought of all places, in a city called Hazleton.
Nestled deep in the Pocono Mountains, Hazleton, Pa. has the look and feel of an all-American town.
Most of the people who turned out for the town's annual end of summer parade are descendents of immigrants who came here in the 19th and early 20th century, including the mayor, Lou Barletta.
The Barlettas came from Italy, and ended up with a street named after them. Now the mayor is making a name for himself by going after a different type of immigrant.
Barletta believes what has been going on in Hazleton, a city of about 30,000 people, is a microcosm of what's been going on all over the country, that illegal immigrants are overwhelming his city, draining its resources and ruining the quality of life
Immigration is a job that has always been handled by the federal government. Asked why he is getting involved, Barletta tells Kroft, "Well, obviously if the federal government was doing something about it you wouldn't be here today. And I wouldn't be talking about it. I mean, we're over 2,000 miles from the nearest Mexican border. So, if cities like Hazleton, Pennsylvania, that sits on top of a mountain is having an illegal immigration problem, I can only imagine what it's like elsewhere in the United States."
Hazleton's "problem" began nearly a decade ago, when the state of Pennsylvania began offering huge tax breaks to attract new businesses. And it worked, ushering in a period of growth and prosperity. Factories, distribution centers and office parks sprung up creating 5,000 jobs, many of them for unskilled labor. By and large the people who moved here to take them were Hispanics from urban areas, who brought diversity, a different language, and in some cases big city problems that Hazleton had never had before. In the year 2000, Latinos represented just five percent of the population. Today, the figure is 30 percent.
Asked what percentage he thinks are illegal immigrants, Barletta says, "Nobody knows that. Nobody knows that anywhere in the United States how many illegals are here."
"If you don't know how many illegal aliens are here, why do you think you have a problem?" Kroft asks.
"When you start seeing serious crimes being committed, very violent crimes being committed and time and time again those involved are illegal aliens, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that you're experiencing a problem here that you've never had before, nor do you have the resources to deal with it," the mayor replies.
The catalyst was two violent crimes involving illegal immigrants; a May 10th murder by two Dominican men, and a drive by shooting. The mayor claims that elderly residents are afraid to leave their homes, and constituents begged him do something.
Serious crimes have nearly doubled in the past two years, and Hazleton's small police force, with its five-man shifts, is not equipped deal with it. The department had exhausted its overtime budget for this year more than four months ago.
"Well, you know, this is a police department that has 31 police officers. A city of our size should have 60," Barletta says. "We arrested an illegal alien for selling crack cocaine on a playground. It took our detectives five hours to determine who he was. He had five different Social Security cards."
At the hospitals, un-reimbursed medical expenses for things like emergency room visits are up by 60 percent. Public school enrollments are up 25 percent.
And the budget for teaching English as a second language has gone from $500 a year to more than $875,000. There are no statistics to corroborate that any of these increases are directly related to illegal immigrants because they have been almost invisible here, and indistinguishable from legal members of the immigrant community.
Last summer, Mayor Barletta and the city council tried to change that by pulling in the welcome mat. They passed an ordinance called the "Illegal Immigration Relief Act," which punishes local businesses and landlords who give work or shelter to illegal immigrants.
Under the local law, anyone who hires an illegal immigrant or rents an apartment to one faces the loss of their business license and thousands of dollars of fines. It also requires everyone in Hazleton who rents an apartment to go to City Hall with a passport, birth certificate or immigration documents or citizenship to show that they are in the country legally. The names can then be checked against a federal data base to determine their immigration status.