HAZLETON, PA., June 21, 2006 -- As the immigration debate stalls among lawmakers in Washington, some cities are taking matters into their own hands by launching crackdowns on illegal immigrants.
With 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., some city leaders feel they cannot wait for the government to act. One of those places is Hazleton, Pa., where Mayor Lou Barletta says illegal immigrants are "destroying" his city.
"They don't belong here. They're not legal citizens. And I don't want them here," Barletta said.
Since he took office six years ago, Hazleton, a city of 30,000 people, has seen an influx of Hispanics. And in recent weeks some Hispanic immigrants have been arrested in criminal incidents including murder, a federal drug bust and a shooting in a crowded park.
"We're using legal, hard-working taxpayers' dollars to fight crimes of individuals who do not belong here, who are not paying their taxes, using up the resources that are for the legal people living here," Barletta said.
Discrimination or Response to Illegal Behavior?
Barletta is now looking to crack down on illegal immigrants by making it harder for those in Hazleton to hire or lease space to them.
Earlier this week the city council gave preliminary approval to the mayor's proposal to shut down businesses that employ illegal immigrants, impose $1,000 fines on landlords who rent to them and make English the city's official language.
And he's not alone -- San Bernadino, Calif.; Canyon County, Idaho; Cobb County, Ga.; and Milford, Mass., are also going after people who employ or house illegal immigrants.
In Hazleton, the mayor's get-tough proposal seems likely to get final approval soon, which has many of the city's roughly 10,000 Hispanics upset.
"They are afraid, they say this is racist. They are against Hispanic people," said Amilcar Arroya.
Another person told us it's "discriminatory" and "unfair."
Barletta says such accusations of racism are "ridiculous."
"Illegal doesn't have a race. Illegal is illegal," he said.