Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Mayor Cracking Down on Illegal Immigrants

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," June 20, 2006, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: The feds want local law enforcement agencies to help them catch illegals. But a new report says the government is not getting a lot of help.

According to USA Today, some of America's largest cities are reluctant to enforce immigration laws. Chicago police are barred from asking immigrants about their legal status, and the New York City public hospitals are keeping an immigrant's legal status secret.

Big cities may not want to crack down on illegals, but one small city does. Jane Skinner is here with that story.

Hi, Jane.


In an open letter, the mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, told illegal immigrants in his community, "You are no longer welcome." The city council has tentatively approved a measure that would revoke the business licenses of companies that hire illegals and fine any landlord in town who rents to them.

But is all of that legal? Mayor Lou Barletta is our guest at this hour.

Mayor, thanks for being here. Tell us how you got to this point, the city taking on illegal immigration on its own.

LOU BARLETTA, MAYOR, HAZLETON, PA: Sure. Actually, it was a series of events that happened here in Hazleton, which is a small town of about 31,000 people. It's a quiet town, really, where it is very unusual to have a murder here in this city.

On May 10, we had an incident where two individuals walked up on a city street to a 29-year-old city man and shot him between the eyes. While we were investigating that crime, we had a 14-year-old firing a gun at a crowded playground not far from where the shooting was.

We arrested four individuals for the homicide. They were all illegal aliens. At the same time, we arrested the 14-year-old, who was also here illegally in this country.

Three days later, we had a federal drug bust in downtown Hazleton, where some of those individuals were also illegal aliens, and that was followed a few days later by gang-related graffiti on property — private property and a playground.

And we have had enough, you know. We don't want that here. Obviously, we welcome all immigrants into the city of Hazleton, legal immigrants. Illegal immigrants are using valuable resources from hard-working legal citizens, and we're not going to take it anymore. We're going to do something about it.

SKINNER: Sounds almost like you are making immigration policy on your own at a local level. I mean, isn't this a federal issue? Isn't this what we pay our members of Congress to do, make immigration laws?

BARLETTA: Yes, you're right. It certainly is a federal issue, and the federal government is doing what it can to protect our borders. But this is an issue that I have to tackle every single day as I walk the streets here. And you know, as we stop illegal immigrants from coming into the country, there are 12 million that are in cities just like Hazleton and cities all across the country. And when they are committing crimes and using up resources, cities need to take action themselves. We are going to protect our own borders here in the city of Hazleton, so to speak.

SKINNER: Real quickly, Mayor, before we let you go. You know you are mostly likely going to face a lawsuit, people are going to say this encourages discrimination based on national origin. Why are you putting your city at risk for a lawsuit like that?

BARLETTA: So be it. I welcome that if that's the case. I took an oath of office to protect the people here in the city of Hazleton, and that's just what I'm doing. I'm not going to wait and sit back and wait for somebody else to do it for us. We're going to take action and we'll let the cards fall where they may.

SKINNER: Mayor Lou Barletta. Mayor, thanks so much.

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