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One Mayor's Controversial Plan To Deal With Illegal Immigration


The people Kroft talked to at the Blue Comet Diner, and most of the people he spoke with in Hazleton, thinks it's a great idea.

"Someone who's here illegally, you know they're breaking a law," one woman told Kroft.

"I believe Mayor Barletta is on the cutting edge of a new societal revolution that may be the forerunner for changing something very important in America," another woman said.

Versions of the Hazleton ordinance are now being debated all over the country with immigration reform groups offering financial and legal backing. Eleven cities from Riverside, N.J. to Farmer's Branch, Texas, have passed similar laws and they are under active consideration in more than 30 communities.

"Hazleton is the first of these. It's not the last. And we're gonna fight them everywhere where they're enacted," vows Lucas Guttentag of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Guttentag is one of 24 lawyers from three civil rights groups, five private law firms, and three charitable organizations and businesses that have filed suit in Scranton asking the federal courts to have the law overturned.

"The ordinance that's been enacted by Hazleton is unconstitutional. It's counterproductive. It's contrary to federal law. It's gonna lead to discrimination and divisiveness in that community, and it's not within the power of local governments to enact these kind of ordinances," he tells Kroft.

Guttentag says the ordinance violates fair housing and civil rights acts that prohibit racial and ethnic profiling. And that under the Constitution, immigration policy is the sole responsibility of the federal government; cities and states can't just come up with their own programs. Mayor Barletta, who has his own team of outside lawyers, including a former immigration advisor to former Attorney General John Ashcroft, says that's not what Hazleton is doing.

"We're not involved in immigration in any way. We're not regulating people coming in and out of the country. In fact, we're not doing anything to the illegal alien. We're simply punishing businesses that hire them and landlords who rent to them," Barletta says.

But Guttentag says one of the problems is that these ordinances are incapable of distinguishing between so-called legal and so-called illegal immigrants and that they don't have that capacity.

"Their argument is, Hazleton isn't gonna be making the decision on who is legal and who is illegal. That's going to be done using a federal database from the immigration service and their computers," Kroft tells Guttentag.

"Well that is what they say, but that's not possible. And we know that's not possible there is no such federal data base," he replies.

The ACLU argues that immigration laws are extremely complicated and that the information in the government computers that Hazleton plans to use to determine whether an immigrant is legal or illegal is not only incomplete, but inaccurate 20 percent of the time. He believes innocent people are going to lose their jobs and be thrown out of their homes with no opportunity to appeal.

"You get evicted first. You get terminated first. You get suspended first. And then you can try to contest that? That's not the federal system is set up. But that's what the Hazleton ordinance does. It punishes first and asks questions later," Guttentag argues.

A federal judge has temporarily stopped the law from being enforced until its legality is decided in court. But Mayor Barletta would argue it's already working. Many illegal immigrants who have been willing to do the kind of jobs others in Hazleton were not, have already gone.