I believe our government and our country is doing the wrong thing

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The bleeding edge of the illegal immigration problem in the U.S. is at the local level.

The excellent organization Judicial Watch held a panel discussion recently with several speakers experienced on the front lines, including Hazleton, PA Mayor Lou Barletta.

We'll have full coverage of the panel within a week or so; today we'll start with the mayor because Hazleton's date in court begins Monday and we will be tracking the proceedings here daily.



How can a city that is 2000 miles away from the nearest southern border have an illegal immigration problem? That's a question I ask myself often. And if you were the mayor, what would you do about it? Most importantly, what could you do about it?

I think it's important for me to give you a little background about what Hazleton is about so you'll be able to see the motivation I had to pass the Illegal Immigration Relief Act.

Hazleton is a small city of about 30,000 people that sits on top of a mountain in Pennsylvania. Its greatest asset is the quality of life that we enjoy. Many senior citizens enjoy sitting on the porch and children, myself in my own childhood, usually grow up on the playgrounds and traveling about the city without much fear.

It's a city that might average one murder every seven years, so you'll have a background on what Hazleton, Pennsylvania was like. I became mayor in the year 2000 at a time when the city was bankrupt. We had a $1.2 million deficit in only a $6 million budget. And that is important as to what motivated me to get to the point where I'm at.

We were able to turn that around, through making very tough decisions, because we revitalized the city through getting awards from the governor, with fiscal responsibility - the city downtown was being revitalized. The deficit turned into a quarter million dollar surplus. Things were looking good.

However, in 2001 I started to notice a change in my city. I started to notice more blight in the neighborhood. Our population was growing rapidly. We were starting to have problems with absentee landlords, overcrowded apartments, and many complaints from the neighbors. And it was then, in 2001, that I had my first encounter will illegal aliens.

We were called to an apartment on a complaint of being overcrowded and when we walked in I couldn't believe what I saw. There were nine mattresses laid out across the floor, nine men sleeping on the floor. They were all illegal aliens. The refrigerator, when we opened it, was filled with cockroaches. This apartment was not fit for animals, let alone human beings to be living like this, and it really caught me off guard because this wasn't something we were accustomed to seeing in our city.

Unfortunately that wasn't going to be my last encounter with illegal aliens. Very shortly after that, on a Friday night - again this is a small town where Friday night football games are a big event for our youth - and on a Friday night after a football game when our youth were downtown enjoying pizza and soda, on the sidewalks just a hundred feet from them, Hector Luna, an illegal alien on a drug deal gone bad, shot two people in front of these high school students, killing one and wounding the other.

This terrorized our community, to have a murder in front of our youth like this right on our downtown streets. It literally terrorized our community.

More and more violent crimes were being committed. More and more drug dealers were being arrested. And more and more times it involved illegal aliens.

We realized we were having a problem for some reason in Hazleton with illegal immigration.

Another incident that happened was on a busy lunch hour, an illegal alien in a domestic dispute stabbed his girlfriend multiple times and then jumped out of a second floor window landing on top of a police officer who was on the sidewalk, as his girlfriend stumbled out of the apartment and collapsed on the city street with a knife protruding out of her stomach. That visual will stay with me forever.

This was followed by more incidents. We started noticing some gang activity. We had 16 year old boy nearly beaten to death with a baseball bat by some gang members.

And then May 10th came about, last year. This was the day that really was the straw that broke the camel's back.

On May 10th I remember coming home from work and getting a call from our police department. A 14 year old illegal alien was arrested for firing a gun into the Pine Street playground.

This was a playground that was filled with Hispanic children. Playgrounds to me are sacred grounds. This very playground, Pine Street playground, was one that I grew up on. I'd hang out there all day, meet my friends there. This was very disturbing that something like this would happen. By the way that 14 year old happened to have his lawyer on speed dial on his telephone which I thought was peculiar. How many 14 year olds have lawyers on speed dial.

But he didn't have any relatives here at all...

Again, I went home not knowing what to do. Hazleton is a city that has 30 police officers, when according to the Department of Justice we should have 60. So we're already stretched beyond our capacity to provide services. And this was becoming a serious problem in our city in trying to make sure that people felt safe.

When I went home I told my wife about the shooting, went to bed, and I remember getting a call at 1:30 in the morning that night from our police chief.

A 29 year old, Derrick Kishline, while he was taking something out of his pickup truck, was shot between the eyes and killed.

It turned out that two illegal aliens had committed that murder and we actually arrested four in connection to that murder and all four were illegal aliens.

I remember lying in bed that night not knowing what to do, realizing that I had lost my city.

My hometown was no longer recognizeable to me any longer. And I prayed for guidance. I remember laying there asking God to "please help me" because I didn't know what I could do to stop what was happening in my city. A city that I love and had pride in was being destroyed while I was the mayor.

A week after that, we had a federal drug bust in downtown Hazleton where we closed two businesses where illegal aliens wre involved. And a week after that there was gang-related graffiti spray-painted on Pine Street Playgound threatening the lives of our police officers - and I had had enough.

I realized that I needed to take action, I needed to do something. I realized that, going back to the 29 year old that was shot between the eyes ... that murder - we'd had 36 hours of our police department working on apprehending those that were involved. Hundreds of hours of overtime. Thousands of taxpayers' dollars. In that one murder, that one incident, we used over half of our yearly budget of overtime on that one incident.

Our city is now in the red. We're now working out of a deficit...

We were now no longer able to provide a level of service to the legal residents in our community. Every time we answer a domestic incident, every time we answer a nuisance call, every time there's a traffic accident involving illegal aliens, it takes police away from their patrols.

Every time we send a code enforcement officer, every time we send a health officer, every time we send a fireman involving an incident with illegal aliens, it drains the city's resources. And we realized we needed to do something.

Senior citizens were becoming prisoners in their own homes. I had a senior citizen wait for me in my parking space one morning and she jabbed me in the chest and she said "listen buster you'd better do something, I am becoming a prisoner in my own home here."

And I thought for a moment: Should I tell her about the fence in Mexico? And I realized I would probably be punched in the face by this woman. I saw what was happening, and I could no longer wait for the federal government to do anything.

Illegal immigration is not a federal problem. It's a local issue. We deal with it every single day.

It is not unusual to be in our hospitals and wait four to five hours - as well all know illegal aliens use the emergency room for primary health care.

An example of how it has exploded in our community: Our school district, in the year 2000, English as a Second Language - the budget was $500. In 2006 that budget is $1,145,000.

Now we can't sit back and wait any longer. So we crafted an ordinance that would do one of two things. It would punish businesses that hire unlawful workers, because it is illegal to hire unlawful workers. We also punish landlords and hold them accountable for harboring illegal aliens.

We also made English the official language in the city of Hazleton. It was not to diminish any other language - I think it's wonderful when people can speak multiple languages - however English is the language we speak in American and it is the language of opportunity. It is proven that those that cannot speak English, new immigrants that cannot speak English are more likely to fail academically, socially and economically, they're more likely to be employed at less desirable jobs than those that can speak English.

So I believe our government and our country is doing the wrong thing ... and in Hazleton we are going to preserve and protect that language.

Of course, we have been sued, by the 25 lawyers who are suing the city of Hazleton: The ACLU, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund.

A number of the plaintiffs, incidentally, are illegal aliens who are going by the names of John and Jane Doe.

This has caused our city, that is financially strapped, to have to stand up and defend itself, and we have. We have set up a legal defense fund. We set up a Web site: SmallTownDefenders.com, where Americans can follow our case and pledge to help the city of Hazleton, and to date we have received over $100,000 with people sending $5.00, $10.00. We had an 88-year-old senior citizen in the western part of the United States who is in a nursing home who had been saving up quarters his whole life, and told his grandaughter where the quarters were, and said "send them to Lou Barletta in Hazleton, he needs it."

And a veteran sent me $7.00 - a five dollar bill and two one dollar bills - and told me "this is everything I have in my wallet, Mayor, don't quit fighting, you're fighting for all of us."

We've received over 20,000 e-mails and letters of support from people all over the country. And attention from not only the national media but international media as well has swarmed on Hazleton and forced me to defend myself.

Today, for the first time, we're going to disclose a national poll that was done by Susquehanna Polling of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. And it's not surprising to me, but it may be to some others that by nearly a three to one margin Americans support what we're doing in Hazleton. Not only support what we're doing in Hazleton, but also would like that same ordinance in their communities as well.

I realize that this ordinance does make Hazleton the toughest city in America, but the bottom line is that I'm fighting back because some things are worth fighting for.

Go here to support Hazleton. They need all the help Americans can provide.

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