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New Video Portrays Pennsylvania Town Ripped Apart by Anti-Immigrant Law

Mariana Bustamante,
Immigrants' Rights Project
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January 20, 2010

A new ACLU video tells the story of how the town of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, went from welcoming immigrants to being the epicenter of an anti-immigrant sentiment that swept through several cities around the country.

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On August 15, 2006, the city of Hazleton passed a controversial law that would have punished landlords and employers for renting to or employing anyone the city classifies as an “illegal alien.” The new law tore the community apart, setting neighbor and against neighbor. Mayor Joe Barletta claimed the law was needed because undocumented immigrants were responsible for bankrupting the city and increasing crime, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Immediately upon the law’s passage, the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the law firm of Cozen O’Connor, the Community Justice Project, and several local attorneys challenged the law, asserting that it unlawfully overrides exclusive federal power over immigration and violates Hazleton residents’ due process and equal protection rights.

This video features Rudy Espinal, an immigrant represented by the ACLU who came to Hazleton because he once felt welcomed. But since the law’s passage, Rudy has become disillusioned by the change in atmosphere he feels in the town that he and other immigrants helped lift out of an economic recession.

In the video, lawyers from the ACLU representing Rudy and other immigrants discuss how laws like Hazleton’s are an easy way to scapegoat immigrants. They point to crime statistics to show that immigrants represent a very minimal portion of the city’s crime rate, and argue that laws like the one passed by Hazleton only accomplish one thing: they divide the community.

In July 2007, a U.S. District Court struck down Hazleton’s ordinance, deeming it unconstitutional. The city appealed that decision to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals; we await a decision.