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Hazleton's anti-immigrant law delayed

By Eric Ruder | November 10, 2006 | Page 2

A FEDERAL judge delayed implementation of a harsh anti-immigrant ordinance in Hazleton, Pa., before it was due to go into effect November 1.

Federal judge James Munley ordered a 14-day delay in implementing the law, which would fine landlords who rent to undocumented workers and shut down businesses that hire the undocumented. A related measure establishes English as the language for official business in Hazleton. Munley later extended the delay for 120 days while he considers a legal challenge filed by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) and the American Civil Liberties Union.

But Mayor Lou Barletta is promising to "fight tooth and nail to be able to enforce the ordinance."

Munley said that Barletta and the city had failed to offer more than "vague complaints" to justify the anti-immigrant ordinances, and hadn't substantiated claims that immigrants had caused increases in crime or overburdened social services. Meanwhile, he said, immigrants could face "irreparable injury" if the law was enforced--eviction from their apartments or economic harm to their businesses.

While the delay and legal challenges are good news for supporters of immigrant rights, Hazleton's immigrant community has already faced consequences from the passage of the law.

Elvis Soto is a legal immigrant who runs a store selling calling cards, cell phones and car stereos. His store was among many Latino-owned businesses that was thriving just months ago, but now is suffering financially--one of several signs that many of Hazleton's Latino residents have left.

"Before, [Hazleton] was a nice place," Soto told an Associated Press reporter. "Now, we have a war against us. I'm legal, but I feel the pressure too."

Likewise, the trickle of customers at Isabel's Gifts is so light that it forced Isabel Rubio and her husband to put their house up for sale. They can't afford the mortgage, so they moved into an apartment above their store. "We've dipped into our savings, and that's no good," said Rubio. "I am in a lot of stress right now. Every day, we hope to have a good day."

Ten other towns around the U.S. have passed ordinances similar to Hazleton's, and more than 30 are considering such measures, according to the PRLDEF.

A law in Escondido, Calif., barring landlords from renting to undocumented workers was passed on October 18, but it, too, faces a legal challenge. Escondido is the largest of the cities and towns that have passed such legislation.

"We believe that it is not within the authority of municipalities like Escondido to pass laws of this kind," said Kristina Campbell, a PRLDEF staff attorney. "Immigration lies within the scope of the authority of the federal government, not small towns."

But legal challenges will have to be supplemented with grassroots mobilizations if justice is to win out against the racist ordinances being pushed by anti-immigrant groups and politicians at every level of government.

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