Thursday, March 29, 2007

Back to the beginning

CARLISLE- The last time Juan Melendez was in Carlisle, he was about to start his descent into hell. On May 2, 1984, Melendez, who was then a migrant worker who worked the orchards of Cumberland County, was arrested for a murder someone else committed. He was ultimately convicted and sentenced to death in Florida.

Last night Melendez returned to Carlisle for the first time since his arrest and told his story to a crowd of more than 70 people at Penn State Dickinson School of Law. The event was co-sponsored by the ACLU chapter at DSL, the Latino/a Law Student Association, the Black Law Student Association, the Amnesty International USA chapter, and Books 2 Prisoners.

Melendez was convicted on the testimony of two "witnesses." One was a police informant, aka a snitch, who claimed that Melendez had confessed to him. The other "witness" was the alleged co-conspirator, who struck a deal to testify against Melendez and was given two years probation.

The trial started on a Monday. By Thursday, Melendez was convicted, and by Friday, he was sentenced to death.

During his talk, he described the conditions on death row. The jail was infested with rats and roaches. Mealtime was always an adventure. Meals were placed in a slot in the cell door, and it was a race to see who could get the food first, the inmate or the rats and roaches.

"Breakfast? Forget it," Melendez said. If you weren't awake to get it, you weren't getting it, he added.

His experience on death row nearly led Melendez to suicide. He was severely depressed and even acquired the materials he needed to hang himself. When he was ready to go forward, he thought, 'I better think about this some more.'

Melendez was exonerated and released in 2002 when his new attorney discovered a taped confession from the real killer. The tape had been in the possession of both the prosecutors and the original defense attorney one month before Melendez's original trial. The judge threw out the conviction and chastised the trial judge, the district attorney, and the original defense attorneys in a 72-page opinion.

"I was not saved by the system," Melendez said. "I was saved in spite of the system."

Last night Melendez was clear about his feelings on the death penalty.

"The worst of all is when the government kills," he said. "Believe me, (more death row prisoners) are innocent."

Melendez encouraged the audience to join him in fighting capital punishment.

"The problem with the death penalty is it's about education," he said. "It's about the details. We've got to teach people about it. We've got to teach them it's cruel. We've got to teach them it's racist. We've got to teach them it's not a deterrent to crime."

The ACLU of PA encourages community groups, schools, and anyone who can possibly do so to host a talk with a death row exoneree. These talks can be arranged through our ally, Witness to Innocence.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

US Attorneys scandal: The civil liberties angle

It appears two of the US Attorneys among the eight who were dismissed were not trying to kill people with as much zeal as the AG (be it Ashcroft or Gonzo) like. In a story that was first out there a few years ago, the DOJ overruled US Attorneys on multiple occasions when the local prosecutor opted to pursue a life sentence.
But long before this controversy shed light on the political maneuvering between the White House and the Justice Department, two of the fired attorneys were engaged in a largely invisible internal struggle with the Justice Department over its aggressive pursuit of the death penalty.

Both Paul Charlton of Arizona and Margaret Chiara of Michigan have been criticized for failing to seek death sentences with sufficient gusto. Both US Attorneys were pressured to participate in an aggressive campaign begun by former Attorney General John Ashcroft and continued by Gonzales to extend the federal death penalty--particularly into jurisdictions without death-penalty statutes of their own.

Apparently, the Bush Administration has not gotten the memo that the death penalty is on the way out. According to Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center:
"The size of the federal death row has almost tripled from 2000 to the present, during a time when state death row numbers have declined." Indeed, the expansion of the federal death penalty is in direct opposition to declining death penalty trends throughout the country--yet another example of the Bush Administration's deliberate disconnect from its constituents.

(Courtesy Abolish the Death Penalty)

Andy in Harrisburg

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Update: Watch the Hutto detention video here

Now you don't even have to leave SF to watch the Hutto detention video.

Andy in Harrisburg


Monday, March 26, 2007

Live from Guantánamo Bay

The Guantánamo Bay military commission proceedings began today under new, flawed rules. The ACLU is one of four organizations that have been granted status as human rights observers at theese proceedings. When the tribunals began in 2004, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero and three ACLU lawyers attended the proceedings and blogged about the experience so Americans could know the truth of Guantánamo. The organization's participation continues today with Ben Wizner, an ACLU staff attorney. Wizner’s blog posts are available here.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Our government is holding children as young as 2 in prison-like conditions

With all of this focus on immigration the last two weeks, how appropriate that national ACLU has released a short video about an immigrant detention facility in Texas. In their words...
This two-minute Freedom Files video short provides a shocking glimpse into conditions at a Texas facility to detain immigrants run by the Department of Homeland Security. Of the approximately 400 detainees at the Hutto Detention Facility, many are children who belong to refugee families seeking political asylum in the U.S. after escaping persecution in their country of origin.

The video introduces viewers to children like two-year-old Angie and her older sister Nixcari, who had been confined for months in the bleak, barbed-wire encased Hutto facility, where children wear prison garb and are held in small cells for the majority of each day. Recreational time is severely limited as are educational opportunities. Access to medical, dental and mental health treatment is inadequate. From one mother who was confined with her 12-year-old: "…a psychological trauma my daughter and I will carry with us for the rest of our lives."

Watch the video.

Andy in Harrisburg


"It's not easy fighting City Hall"

Thursday, March 22

The final day of the Hazleton trial opened with the news that the Hazleton City Council had passed yet another revision of its anti-immigrant ordinance the previous night. As plaintiffs attorney Vic Walczak said ruefully, "It's a little difficult when the target keeps moving."

Vic Walczak gave the closing argument for the plaintiffs. He spoke about the bravery of the clients, and said "it's not easy fighting City Hall." He acknowledged that public opinion is not necessarily with the plaintiffs in the case, but it's "not a popularity contest. The Constitution protects everybody--even the minority."

Walczak cited to the dictionary definition of the word scapegoat: "one that bears blame for others; object of irrational hostility." He painted a picture of a mayor and a city council who claimed illegal immigrants were "the cause of all Hazleton’s woes, and by extension, this nation’s woes" with absolutely no investigation or evidence.

He pointed out that Hazleton does not have the financial troubles it claims, and in fact, the influx of immigrants, both legal and illegal, to Hazleton have played a large role in the revitalization of the city. In 2000, before the influx, they had a $1.2 million deficit. That is now a surplus. The town saw its largest increase in property values last year, part of three consecutive years of increases. The town's net assets are up 18%, and the towns bond rating is AAA. Hazleton is in "pretty good financial shape."

In passing the ordinance, Hazleton cited the toll illegal immigrants have taken on the schools and the hospital. However, students from Hazleton make up only 43% of the total number in the school district, and it has never endorsed this ordinance. The hospital, allegedly struggling under the burden of providing services to illegal immigrants, managed to turn a $4 million profit last year.

The centerpiece of Mayor Barletta's claims for needing the ordinance has always been crime. Although the number of crimes in Hazleton has indeed increased, the population has increased by a greater percent. What does that mean? That the per capita crime rate now is actually lower than it was five years ago. (These figures came directly from charts provided by the city.) The mayor has said he "doesn't need figures to know the story."

By accounts on both sides, before the ordinance there had been "relative harmony" between the native-born residents in Hazleton and the new immigrants. The mayor's PR campaign and the ordinance have put an end to that and have "promoted hostility toward the immigrant community," said Walczak

The judge asked if the plaintiffs needed to file a fourth version of the complaint, given that Hazleton had changed the ordinance yet again. He seemed perplexed as to how to handle this aspect, saying "I've never had this happen to me before." Walczak argued (in the legal sense) that unless there's a declaration that the law that had been passed was unconstitutional, there was no legal bar to the city reverting back to the original version.

Interestingly, after months of playing to emotions about the ordinance, the attorney for the other side, Kris Kobach, stuck purely to the law in his closing statement. He stated the other side had spent "twenty minutes offering you a story. I'm not going to waste the court's time telling a story of quoting from the dictionary. I'll go straight to the law." He proceeded to argue that the plaintiffs did not have standing and that Hazleton was not preempting federal law.

He made the claim that contrary to what the plaintiffs argued, it was possible to find out easily someone's immigration status, and that it was a cut-and-dried definition. He said that the city did not need scientific evidence of the problems with illegal immigrants, just a rational belief.

Several times Kobach claimed that the plaintiffs filed prematurely, and that therefore there was no way to know if the ordinance provided adequate due process or would be applied discriminatorily. He also assured the court that Hazleton’s code enforcement office would provide a warning to a violator and not immediately enforce these provisions. The judge asked "do we look at the practice? Or the policy?" He went on to say that in every community, enforcement of the law is often "based on who you are."

Kobach also claimed the ordinances had been "painstakingly crafted." (An interesting claim, given how many times they've been revised.)

Several times the judge mentioned how "convoluted" this case is. He said that the "lawyering was very spirited" and complimented both sides on "brilliant closings."

Given the amount of paper already submitted to the court in the case, the judge asked that each sides findings of fact be limited to 20-30 pages and not be repetitive of prior briefs. They are to be filed by May 7th.

After arguments concluded, lawyers on both sides took time to give press interviews and check out their portraits as drawn by a local artist for a national television network. Outside, as Walczak left the phalanx of cameramen and reporters to head back to his hotel, a spectator standing on the side walk approached him. "Are you with Hazleton?" he asked hopefully. After receiving a "no," the man said "Too bad. I want Hazleton to pass this thing so that we can get one here in Scranton. We gotta get those people out of here."

Sara in Philly

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It was only a matter of time

N.J. KKK group plans to hold rally in Hazleton

UPDATE, 10:37am: And here's a telling quote from a PSU prof from a Times Leader story on the same topic.
A Penn State professor claims Hazleton's ordinances embolden people with a predisposition to prejudice to act on their feelings and serve as a rallying point for hate groups.

"Look at the rhetoric of these ordinances and their emphasis on protecting Americans from the influx of undesirable outsiders," said Amir Marvasti, an assistant professor of sociology at the Altoona campus. "It's not very different from the language of hate groups and their obsessions with preserving the purity of the white race."

Andy in Harrisburg

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

They "come here to here to the land of hope and dreams to make a better life"

One of our staff members is attending today's closing arguments at the Hazleton anti-immigrant trial in Scranton, and we will have a report later today. In the meantime, here is some media coverage of yesterday's proceedings and the first dispatch from the AP about the closing statement by ACLU-PA legal director Vic Walczak.

AP (by way of Centre Daily Times): ACLU: Hazleton demonized illegal immigrants to justify crackdown

Times Leader: Defense witnesses talk gang activity

The Republican & Herald: In last day of tesimony, experts defend Hazleton's ordinance

Also, a reader commented on my post from last Saturday, "Postcard from Scranton," and reminded me that some of our plaintiffs in the Dover trial also received threatening hate mail. Although we tend to look back on the Dover intelligent design trial with a level of fondness, it was not all fun and games, and the reader's comment reminded me that after the decision Judge Jones required protection from US Marshalls for a time due to death threats.

When elected officials and other public figures use religion, ethnicity, or other factors to divide communities, it tends to bring out the worst in people.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Closing arguments

Closing arguments in the Hazleton trial are now set for 9:30am on Thursday, March 22. Each side has 90 minutes.

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Another "expert" from the defense

Hazleton trial, Wednesday, March 21

We were not able to send a blogger to Scranton today for the continued proceedings of the Hazleton anti-immigrant trial, but we did touch base with our legal team at the lunch break.

This morning the defense called two Hazleton police officers, Detective Orozco, who heads the recently formed street gang unit, and Detective Zola, the head of the narcotics unit. Both officers emphasized that there is a problem with drugs and gangs in Hazleton.

However, on cross-examination, it became clear that their definition of a gang is two or three people. In addition and most importantly for this case, actual evidence of a connection between gang activity and undocumented immigrants is low. In fact, the overall level of gang activity in the city appears to be relatively low.

And the connection to the ordinances and how they would suppress gang activity is not clear.

The defense also called Jared Lewis, the founder of, as an "expert" witness on gang activity. Mr. Lewis offers himself as a gang expert after serving "for a short period of time" as a police officer. He attended college for two years but did not finish and does not have a post-secondary degree. He stated that he gets all of the knowledge he needs from the streets. He has written one article that was not peer-reviewed.

Now, there is nothing wrong with not having a degree. There is an expectation, though, that an expert witness has some type of academic background. As an example, it's difficult to undertake research without knowledge of research methodology.

In addition, Lewis has no firsthand knowledge of Hazleton, other than driving through town yesterday. The opinions he offered are supposedly based on a phone call he received from Detective Orrosco.

In addition to today's testimony, Judge Munley did not allow a law professor from Temple University to be admitted as an expert for the defense because the judge found that the professor had nothing to offer that was relevant to the case.

After lunch, Lewis will continue to testify. The defense will also call Michael Cutler, a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and a former INS agent.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Plaintiffs rest, Defense calls "experts"

Hazleton trial, Tuesday, March 20

SCRANTON- After lunch at the Hazleton anti-immigrant trial in Scranton, city police chief Robert Ferdinand discussed under direct questioning various public events that were organized against the ordinances, including a candlelight vigil, a rally, and the presence at the city council meeting the night the first ordinance passed. In each situation, organizers and the police worked in cooperation to ensure that the safety of all involved was protected.

Before lunch, defense counsel and Chief Ferdinand went through twenty incident reports of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, so plaintiffs attorney Tom Fiddler of Cozen O'Connor started his cross-examination after lunch by asking the chief about the 20 reports.

"Those 20 reports that we went through are part of the 8571 crimes" committed in Hazleton from 2001 to 2006, Fiddler stated, and Chief Ferdinand concurred. Fiddler also noted that some of the 20 suspects were not residents of the city of Hazleton.

Most of the cross was spent restating statistics, including the 83 violent crimes committed in Hazleton in 2006, 3 by undocumented immigrants, and 88 in 2005, zero by undocumented immigrants.

Before the plaintiffs rested their case, the depositions of John and Jane Does 1, 2, 3, and 4 were submitted. Due to their immigration status, these plaintiffs did not publicly testify, and Judge Munley noted for those in the courtroom that he has the power to allow this under "exceptional circumstances" and "in the interests of justice." The defense did cross-examination those witnesses during the depositions.

To open their case, the defense called Dr. Steven Camarota, the director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C. Dr. Camarota is a Philadelphia native, a graduate of Juniata College (bachelor's), Penn (master's), and the University of Virginia (PHD). With CIS, Dr. Camarota evaluates Census Bureau data and examines the research methods used by the bureau. He was entered as an expert witness to discuss the fiscal impact of illegal immigration, census data, and the impact on hospitals. He has testified before Congress but never as an expert in a trial. By his own admission, he is not an economist or a statistician.

Before being entered as an expert witness, plaintiffs counsel Denise Alvarez of Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund asked Camarota about CIS's immigration vision for the United States, and it became clear that CIS believes that the national interest of the United States would be served by a lower rate of immigration. Alvarez stated, "You always conclude that there is a net negative impact" from illegal immigration. The plaintiffs attempted to block Camarota's entry as an expert, but the judge allowed him to testify.

Under direct questioning, Camarota stated that an undocumented immigrant has a net negative impact on the federal budget of $2700 and also claimed that the impact at the state and local level is about double that figure.

By looking at the budget and students in the English-as-a-Second-Language program at the local school district, which is made up of more than a dozen local municipalities, Camarota estimated that there are 1500-3400 undocumented immigrants in the city.

Under cross-examination by Alvarez, Camarota conceded that legal residents and citizens can also be participating in the ESL program. He also admitted that he did not have the number of students in the ESL program who are undocumented immigrants.

The next expert called by the defense was John Martin, the special project director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Martin last earned a degree in 1961, when he achieved a bachelor's in political science. He also spent a year on sabbatical studying Latin American affairs at UCLA. Since 2003, Martin has had 18 articles published. All of those articles were published by either FAIR or CIS, and none of them were peer-reviewed.

FAIR is a non-partisan, non-profit organization that, according to its website, "advocates a temporary moratorium on all immigration except spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and a limited number of refugees." According to today's testimony, FAIR's immigration concerns include assimilation, the nation's limits on non-renewable energy sources, and an immigration flow that contributes economically.

Martin acknowledged criticisms that FAIR is anti-Latino but said that the organization is "for a non-discriminatory policy."

Calling staff from CIS and FAIR as witnesses is significant. Both organizations were founded and are funded by activist John Tanton. Tanton has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as "the puppeteer" of the anti-immigrant movement. Tanton has founded and/or funded 13 anti-immigrant groups, including some that SPLC lists as hate groups.

It is important to note that SPLC does not consider either FAIR or CIS hate groups. However, it has made note of collaboration between FAIR and other groups that it lists in the hate group category.

FAIR worked closely with a hate group, the American Immigration Control Foundation (AICF), to pay signature-gatherers for the referendum. Together, they spent $305,500. Like Abernethy, AICF's leader, John Vinson, is an adviser to the CCC, a group that has described blacks as a "retrograde species of humanity." FAIR has not criticized Vinson in any way.

FAIR's Dan Stein is an editorial adviser to The Social Contract, a journal that is published by a hate group and has featured articles by Abernethy. The journal is edited by Wayne Lutton, another adviser to the CCC.

And the defense feels that Martin is a credible "expert" despite this questionable background of his organization. The plaintiffs attempted to block his entry as an expert but failed.

Martin's testimony was very narrow and focused on the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which is a federal program that reimburses states a percentage of the money they spend to incarcerate illegal immigrants. Martin stated that the state had 500-700 incarceration years in 2003 of immigrants, legal and illegal. Luzerne County, where Hazleton is located, had 11 prisoner years that year. Martin said that Pennsylvania is below the national average.

SF will not have a blogger present at Wednesday's proceedings but will get a lunchtime update from the legal team.

Andy in Harrisburg in Scranton

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Hazleton trial schedule

Final arguments in the Hazleton trial are scheduled for Thursday, March 22, after lunch.

Crime and reason

SCRANTON- In the midst of a rapidly increasing population and a drastic cut in the size of the police force, total crimes in Hazleton from 2001 to 2006 remained relatively stable, and the crime rate- incidents per 100,000 residents- actually dropped. That was the underlying story of this morning's testimony by city police chief Robert Ferdinand at the ongoing trial in Scranton over Hazleton's anti-immigrant ordinances.

Forget the Illegal Immigration Relief Act. Chief Ferdinand and the police department deserve a raise!

Since the introduction of the ordinance idea, Mayor Lou Barletta has been telling anyone who would listen that crime by illegal immigrants is crippling his city.

And yet consider these numbers.
• From 2000 to 2005, Hazleton's population increased from 23,000 to 33,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
• In 2000, the city PD had 42 officers but went down to 23 in 2001 due to budget cuts. Today the department has 30 officers with three more in training.

Such numbers could be predictors of an increase in crime. But…
• In 2001, there were 1358 crimes in the city.
• In 2006, there were 1397 crimes in Hazleton.

In the intervening years, the numbers were similar with just a slight spike to 1578 in 2002.

This information, provided by the city's police department, came out during Chief Ferdinand's testimony under questioning by plaintiff’s attorney Tom Fiddler.

Before the morning was out, the defense, led by attorney Drew Adair, had the opportunity to question the chief. The contrast between the plaintiffs' approach and that of the defense was clear. Our team combed through statistical evidence, and the defense focused on individual cases involving undocumented immigrants.

Fiddler led Chief Ferdinand through the stats on violent crime. Under the city's violent crime index (VCI), undocumented immigrants committed no violent crime until 2006, when three such cases were reported. The VCI includes homicide, attempted homicide, rape, attempted rape, assault with a weapon, robbery with a weapon, and aggravated assault.

Chief Ferdinand insisted under both cross-examination and direct questioning that a lack of documentation of crimes by undocumented immigrants is not indicative that such crime was not happening.

"We don't have any documents, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen," the chief said.

Led by defense attorneys, Chief Ferdinand detailed multiple individual crimes, including the murder of Derek Kichline. He also noted that he has had no reports of harassment of Latinos since the passing of the ordinances and that business owners on Wyoming Street, which is identified as a hot-spot for crime and is a largely Latino area of town, have requested a greater police presence.

Chief Ferdinand will conclude his testimony this afternoon. The defense will also be calling an expert witness from the Center for Immigration Studies.

The testimony of plaintiff's expert witness, Ruben G. Rumbaut, was taken in a video deposition and admitted into evidence. You can see his report here, and a find the results of a study he did with Walter Ewing here.

Andy in Harrisburg in Scranton

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Hazleton police chief takes the stand

As the landmark trial challenging Hazleton, PA's Illegal Immigration Relief Act ordinance continued Monday morning we first heard from two expert witnesses, one on behalf of each side.

First to testify was George Borjas, a Harvard professor of economics and social policy with extensive work on the economic effects of immigration. The plaintiff argued that Mr. Borjas was not qualified because he never conducted any direct studies of the labor market in Hazleton. The defense argued that although Mr. Borjas hadn't studied the economies or employment markets of Hazleton, Luzerne County, or Pennsylvania, national trends can be boiled to the local level. The witness was admitted.

Mr. Borjas testified that between 1980-2000 the influx of immigrants, both legal and undocumented, has caused the wages of the native born labor force to decline by 8%. He talked about elementary laws of supply and demand, applied to the labor market, where an influx of immigrants flooding labor markets drives wages down.
If the Hazleton ordinance is successful in deterring employers from hiring unauthorized worker, wages would increase "in the short term." Mr. Borjas insinuated that the reason the United States Chamber of Commerce joined the plaintiffs in the lawsuit was because the Chamber is a representative of employers, who are "profit maximizers" in favor of cheap labor.

The next expert, Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr of Cornell, has published over 200 articles or books on immigration law, co-authored an oft judicially cited treatise on the interpretation of immigration law, and practices law with a firm specializing in immigration law. Mr. Yale-Loehr was not being compensated for today's testimony.
The general theme of the plaintiff's direct examination of Mr. Yale-Loehr was to show that immigration issues are an extremely complex area of law. Mr. Yale-Loehr named a litany of different immigration statuses that an individual could possibly have; off the top of his head he described at least ten. So complex is immigration law that only a federal immigration judge can conclusively determine an individual's immigration status.

According to Mr. Yale-Loehr, the procedure that must take place for someone to be deported from the country is as follows: First, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, has to conduct an investigation, which is usually instigated by a complaint. If, upon completion of its investigation, ICE believes a person to be unlawfully present, it issues a Notice to Appear before an immigration judge. After the individual completes his hearing(s), the judge finally issues a determination. This process usually takes six months to several years.

Even after an immigration judge's determination, a person can file a series of appeals starting at the Board of Appeals, then to the Federal Courts of Appeals, and ultimately to the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Yale-Loehr said.

The only time someone can be removed without a hearing is under the Expedited Removal system, which is only applicable when people are found crossing the border without documents within 100 miles of a U.S. border without documents. (Hazleton is farther than 100 miles from any border), said Mr. Yale-Loehr. Hazleton is farther than 100 miles from any border.

Sam Monticello, the city's administrator, concluded his testimony this afternoon. Much of his testimony rehashed what he discussed Friday. Among the new revelations were that none of the City Financial Statements detail anything with regards to the city's costs of dealing with illegal immigration; that although the city had greater than anticipated earned income tax receipts, the increase did not seem to Mr. Monticello to correspond with the population increase; and that one of the purposes of the Tenant Registration ordinance was to identify people who might have been cheating on their income taxes.

Robert Ferdinand, Hazleton's Police Chief, was the day's final witness. Mr. Ferdinand believes there are illegal aliens in Hazleton, but doesn't know how many. The department has arrested some undocumented persons, said Mr. Ferdinand.
Sometimes the federal government issues detainers for suspects, whereby Hazleton police detain the suspects until the feds come and pick them up. Mr. Ferdinand says his department has no way of determining how many detainers they've handled.

Mr. Ferdinand asked his narcotics division for a list of their total arrests, along with an indication of which of the suspects arrested were undocumented. The Police Department has a computerized "alert" system which it uses to catalog arrests. From a query of this alert system, the narcotics department produced 21 incident investigation reports. The attorney for the plaintiffs, Tom Fiddler, scrutinized these reports, and found many of them to have no indication that suspects were illegal aliens. One report listed the crime's victim of being suspected as unlawfully present. Furthermore, Mr. Ferdinand could not say how many convictions, if any, had resulted from these incidents.

Mr. Ferdinand was not able to conclude his cross-examination, as there was a bit of document shuffling related confusion at the end of the say. Mr. Fiddler suggested that court recess until morning to allow everyone to get their paperwork in order.

Abe in Scranton

Hazleton trial, Friday, March 16

The suit against Hazleton's illegal immigration ordinance continued Friday morning in Scranton with the testimony of two City of Hazleton department heads and two Code Enforcement Officers.

Rick Wech, one of Hazleton's Code Enforcement and Zoning Officers, was the first witness. Cross examined by Philadelphia attorney Ilan Rosenberg, Mr. Wech was quite cooperative, offering simple yes or no answers for most of his testimony.

The embattled ordinance mandates the Code Enforcement Officer to investigate "valid complaints" of possible violations. Mr. Wech testified that he wouldn't know how to determine whether complaints were valid, that he had no training on enforcement of the ordinance, and that he had no training in verifying documents used to confirm the legal residency of individuals. Mr. Wech said he had never seen most of the documents the federal government uses in determining legal residency.

Next to testify was Robert Dougherty, Hazleton's Director of Planning and Director of Public Works. As Director of Planning Mr. Dougherty oversees several city departments including the Zoning and Permits department, a subsidiary of which is the newly created Registration Office that would register all tenants and landlords under the disputed ordinances. Under cross-examination by plaintiff counsel Tom Fiddler, Mr. Dougherty was questioned extensively about the tenant registration ordinance, which requires all renters to register with the city, supplying proof of legal residency, in the form of photocopied identification documents. Under the ordinance, landlords are fined if they rent to unregistered tenants.

Mr. Dougherty testified that an English notice of the tenant registration ordinance was placed in the local newspaper; this is somewhat attributable to the English only ordinance, which is generally off-limits in this lawsuit as the defense agreed to concede it prior to the trial. Mr. Fiddler alluded that much of Hazleton's substantial Hispanic population can't read English. During direct examination Mr. Dougherty testified that violators would not generally be cited immediately when breaking laws they are unaware of. Hazleton's "general approach to enforcing all ordinances is to try to clear up problems before issuing citations," said Mr. Dougherty. So hypothetically, individuals not able to read English "would be contacted, and would have the opportunity to register before any citations would be issued." For the record, Mr. Fiddler pointed out that the enjoined ordinance fails to stipulate such leniency.

The defense appears to be establishing a pattern of introducing and questioning witnesses on documents not yet shown to the court or plaintiff. Mr. Dougherty was questioned on a revised ordinance that was considered at last night's Hazleton City Council meeting. When the plaintiff objected, the defense said they would have the ordinance faxed in and supplied to the court upon returning from lunch. Unlike yesterday, the city's counsel did follow through on their promise.

Taking the stand after lunch as the day's third witness was Paul Kattner, the city's other code enforcement officer. Cross-examined by Tom Wilkinson, Mr. Kattner's testimony was very much a mirror image of Mr. Wech's. Mr. Kattner has no training in evaluating identification documents, has not read the ordinance he would be responsible to enforce, and before today had not seen the notice in the newspaper of the ordinance's implementation.

Again there was discussion of the English only legislation, whereby English was to be Hazleton's official language and all city documents and signs were to be written in no other language than English. Mr. Kattner testified that available in his office, there had been at least five forms or applications for various registrations and permits that had been translated, free of charge, into Spanish as a public service by Hazleton's Spanish language newspaper. This free translation is significant because one of the reasons cited long before the trial by Mayor Barletta for the necessity of an English-only ordinance was the burden placed on the city's finances by having to hire translators. Upon the ordinance's passage, Mr. Kattner voluntarily delivered the Spanish city forms to the Mayor's office. They have not been available to the public since, despite Judge James M. Munley's order that the forms be returned to Mr. Kattner's office.

The final witness of the day was Sam Monticello, the Director of Administration and Director of Community Development. Among Mr. Monticello's many responsibilities is to prepare a budget and keep tabs on city revenue. Mr. Monticello, unlike previous city employees including the Mayor, admitted that Hazleton's skyrocketing population is largely attributable to a Hispanic influx. Like Mr. Barletta, Mr. Monticello had no way of knowing what percentages of new citizens were undocumented.
Mr. Fiddler once again took the floor to question Mr. Monticello, where an in-depth examination of Hazleton's budgets since 2000 ensued. Mr. Barletta testified yesterday that "If we do not control illegal immigration, we will be bankrupt soon." But Mr. Monticello's most recent budget narrative had no information regarding the expenses incurred by illegal aliens.

Court was suspended early on account of inclement weather, cutting Mr. Fiddler's testimony short. He is to resume Monday. Also scheduled to appear are two expert witnesses: Dr. Stephen Yale-Lohr of Cornell (for the plaintiff) and Dr. George J. Borjas of Harvard (for the defense). If time allows, Hazleton Police Chief Robert Ferdinand will also testify.

Abe in Scranton

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Postcard from Scranton

The first week of the Hazleton trial is over. After observing two of the first three days and trekking nearly 500 miles up and down I-81 between Harrisburg and Scranton, some things come to mind about what's going on.

Taking them at their word: They embrace immigrants. It's easy to be cynical about our public officials and their motivations. Most of us around here have certainly been among the cynics about Hazleton's actions, believing that it was motivated by a) xenophobia and racism and b) election year politics.

But let's assume for a moment that the comments made by Mayor Barletta are genuine and that he and his supporters embrace immigrants and Latinos in their city. If that's the case, then they were naïve about the impact of the ordinance and out of touch with the community. They failed to recognize the negative impact this would have on the entire Latino community, and that's not how effective community leaders operate.

The antithesis of Hazleton is Norristown, which considered a similar ordinance but decided against it and in favor of working with their new neighbors. Council President Bill Procyson told the Times Herald, "The Mexican community is becoming integral to Norristown, and we'd like to see what we can do to (better) integrate them."

Latinos: One big family. Dr. Lopez testified on Monday about the dynamics of the Latino community and how an attack on some Latinos is viewed as an attack on all Latinos. I've seen this in my personal life. My wife is from Puerto Rico. She generally agrees with the ACLU but isn't passionate about the issues. When I've suggested she attend an event or our state conference, she has said that it would be like asking me to attend one of her teacher conferences.

But when all of this started brewing last year, she was fired up. She was ready to go to Hazleton to march, rally, and do whatever else we could to oppose what was happening. (I told her that our contribution would be me doing my job.)

This touches a nerve with all Latinos.

White privilege. One of the biggest challenges we face in race relations in this country is the failure of us white folk to recognize the privilege we have. I think about this any time when I could be asked for ID but am not, whenever I get on public transportation- particularly airplanes-, whenever I'm around police officers or security guards who don't have their guard up in my presence.

There have been times when I've set off metal detectors at government buildings, and the guards didn't bother waving the wand over me or asking me to go back through. One time, I even had someone tell me that I didn't "look like the criminal type." What's that about? (Can't recall where that was. It might have been a bank.)

To bring it back to Hazleton, many whites who have genuinely good intentions fail to recognize the harm their rhetoric and actions cause on minority communities.

Dover reset: Watch your local government. One of the lessons from the Dover intelligent design trial was on display again during testimony on Tuesday and Wednesday. Local officials are prone to putting forth half-baked ideas without really knowing the issues involved. We saw this in Dover when school board members admitted on the stand that they didn't even know what intelligent design was, and now we're learning that Mayor Barletta and Council President Yanuzzi really don't understand immigration law or the mechanics of enforcing it. That's totally understandable because this is complicated stuff that only those who are professionals totally understand. I certainly don't get it. But to bring forth this ordinance without this understanding was irresponsible.

This is not Dover. Around here, we have a tendency to compare this trial to Dover since that was our last big trial. One of the common comments about our blogging during the Dover trial was how funny it was, and there was plenty of material to play with during Dover. The scientists were like kids in a candy store, giddily explaining their craft on a big stage, and the school board fulfilled the worst stereotypes about people from small towns.

The Hazleton trial just doesn't lend itself to that kind of fun. If Dover was a comedy, Hazleton is a tragedy. We're talking about race, murder, threatening hate mail, and the tearing apart of a community. This is serious stuff.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Outpost: Scranton

I'm not sure what happened to our blogger yesterday. Maybe we'll have something up sometime today. In the meantime, here are some of the articles that covered yesterday's proceedings:

(Wilkes Barre) Times Leader: Registration fees a major issue at trial (includes a list of Monday's witnesses)

(Allentown) Morning Call: Immigration law bypassed review

Citizens' Voice: Hazleton workers lacked proper training

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Day four of the Hazleton trial

Hazleton trial, Thursday, March 15, afternoon

Shortly after court reconvened following lunch, expert witness Marc R. Rosenblum concluded his testimony. Plaintiffs' attorney Vic Walczak of the ACLU was sure to make it a matter of record that the defense failed to provide the statistics from the unreleased, updated Temple - Westat report that were cited by the defense this morning. Mr. Rosenblum said "I spent some of my lunch break looking for them on the web, and couldn't find them."

Mr. Rosenblum was followed by Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta, who took the stand for the second day. Mr. Barletta said he has, in the past, encouraged new immigrants to "bec[o]me Hazletonians. I was the mayor, I wanted to make sure people would assimilate, it was important for me to reach out and make them feel welcome."

Under direct examination Mayor Barletta reiterated the impossibility of providing numbers or statistics of the burden of city services, health care, and education, by undocumented residents. In explaining his sense of undocumented persons being a serious problem in Hazleton, Mayor Barletta spoke about a bulletin board in city hall, where newspaper clippings are posted with headlines like "Illegal Alien Arrested for Drugs," and "Illegal Alien Arrested for Murder." "Time and time again we wake up and read these things," said Mayor Barletta.

Responding to hate mail (which Mr. Barletta described as "disgusting") that Dr. Agapito Lopez received and read earlier in the trial, Mr. Barletta claims he has received similar intimidation. After Mr. Walczak's hearsay objection, which was initially sustained, and then overruled, Mr. Barletta recounted a call he claims he received in his home: "How will you feel when you die and burn in hell with Lucifer and Lou Dobbs?"

Mayor Barletta's direct examination was filled with quotes of sound bite caliber. Here is just a small sampling:

"My people in my city did not need any numbers."

"Every hour that I spend on an illegal alien, should be spent on a taxpayer."

"It is widely known that most illegal aliens do not speak English."

Mr. Walczak had about an hour in the late afternoon to cross examine Mr. Barletta.

When asked about Hispanics in Hazleton who perceive the ordinance as having a discriminatory effect, Mayor Barletta said, "Some of that perception was borne by some of the Latino leaders who were not communicating what this ordinance was about."

Mr. Walczak pressed Mr. Barletta numerous times to confirm or deny the attorney's interpretation of the violent crime statistics, which attributes two or three of Hazleton's 428 violent crimes over the past five years to illegal aliens. Mr. Barletta repeatedly sidestepped the question.

Mr. Barletta mentioned a few times today a shooting on a playground perpetrated by a 14-year old illegal immigrant. When Mr. Walczak asked him if he knew the weapon in this shooting was a B.B. gun, Mr. Barletta responded "No."

Abe in Scranton

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More Left-Wing Communist America-Haters for Illegal Aliens

The Catholic Church.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston, wrote this op-ed in yesterday's Boston Globe.
But before they are "illegal," they are human -- women and men with families, hopes and dreams, a determination to find a better life for their children. Their humanity, human dignity, and -- most of all -- their children have the first claim on our conscience as Americans.
At another time in history those people could have been us. Our shared respect for humanity and our faith in the promise of a better future calls us to do better.

I found that op-ed through this diary entry at Daily Kos by teacherken.
Yes, we have people who are here illegally. What many don't realize is that when grabbed in immigration raids one is not in the situation of being innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. One is faced with the presumption of being illegla (sic), and lacks access to the mechanisms of the American legal system that are intended to protect against abusive actions by the government. If we will not address this issue now, we have no hope of addressing the true horrors of the MCA. And then the next step is the loss of protections for citizens merely on the basis of accusations by the government. Lest we forget, we have been down this route before, as we can see in the Korematsu decision.

Andy in Harrisburg


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Legal experts: Uphill battle for Hazleton

For the second night in a row, a legal expert appearing on Lou Dobbs Tonight on CNN predicted that Hazleton's chances in the lawsuit are not good.

Tonight it was Jonathan Turley of George Washington University:
But it remains really a political, not a legal solution. They have got to change the people in Washington if they want to change the policy or at least change the minds of the people in Washington.

DOBBS: And meanwhile, it sounds to me like you are not giving the community of Hazleton or, any other community, in the entire country much confidence they will prevail.

TURLEY: I'd have to bet against them. It's not that it's a totally lost cause, but it's just going to be a very rough and long road to hoe for them.

Last night it was Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's senior legal analyst:
TOOBIN: Well, I think the toughest test for this ordinance is a doctrine called preemption, which is preemption is a constitutional law doctrine that says when the federal government is involved in regulating an area, the states and localities can't contradict or occupy the space.

The most famous case about preemption involves nuclear power plants.

DOBBS: Right.

TOOBIN: They said -- their federal laws dictate safety at nuclear power plants. Well, some states said, no, we want these -- the rules to be tighter, to be safer, and the Supreme Court said no, this is preempted by the federal government. The federal government determines it. I think that's the risk in this law.

DOBBS: And that's the risk. Who do you think prevails?

TOOBIN: I think the ACLU and the Chamber of Commerce, I think they're going to prevail. I think the judge is going to avoid the issue about whether it's discriminatory, and simply say, look, this is a federal matter. Hazleton, stay out of it.

Andy in Harrisburg

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NY Times points out inhumanity of how we deal with immigrants

In today's editorial, the New York Times offered a powerful and moving portrait of how we are dealing with undocumented immigrants.
A screaming baby girl has been forcibly weaned from breast milk and taken, dehydrated, to an emergency room, so that the nation's borders will be secure. Her mother and more than 300 other workers in a leather-goods factory in New Bedford, Mass., have been terrorized — subdued by guns and dogs, their children stranded at school — so that the country will notice that the Bush administration is serious about enforcing immigration laws. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of poor Americans, lacking the right citizenship papers, have been denied a doctor's care so that not a penny of Medicaid will go to a sick illegal immigrant.

As the country waits for Congress and the president to enact immigration reform, the indecency of existing policies is becoming intolerable.

Andy in Harrisburg


Immigration expert: Hazleton went too far

Hazleton's Illegal Immigration Relief Act ordinance was again under the microscope in courtroom 4 at the federal courthouse in Scranton. Under direct examination by ACLU legal director Vic Walczak, immigration expert Marc R. Rosenblum, a political science professor at the University of New Orleans who last year worked with Congress in drafting immigration reform, offered damning testimony of Hazleton's ordinance and the voluntary federal verification programs it encourages Hazleton businesses to use. Mr. Rosenblum's testimony articulated a lack of due diligence by the ordinance's authors.

"Hazleton has changed the penalty structure" of immigration law, "making it harsher and shortening timelines." According to Mr. Rosenblum the "best historical example" of anything comparable to Hazleton's ordinance is Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). IRCA has had no effective curtailment of undocumented employment, "had the effect of driving down wages… for all U.S. workers," and "has led to increased discrimination against Latinos."

"Seven percent of employers admitted to the (Government Accountability Office) that, after IRCA passed, they stopped hiring Latinos," Rosenblum stated.

"Hazleton's ordinance eliminates due process" by only allowing three days for employers to come into compliance, upon receipt of a complaint. "It is a near certainty that legal citizens and immigrants will be victimized by the three day timeline."

He claims that the complaint-based enforcement nature of the ordinance encourages discrimination, and that even the most "hardcore, restrictive [federal immigration reform] legislation doesn't contemplate this sort of individual complaint based system."

According to Mr. Rosenblum, Hazleton's ordinance, in contrast with federal law, also requires businesses to verify the eligibility of their independent contractors. Perhaps the most severe difference between Hazleton and federal statutes is that the U.S. government requires that businesses must not knowingly hire ineligible workers, where Hazleton prohibits the employment of ineligible workers, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Mr. Rosenblum argues this encourages defensive non-hirings, which increases the chances of discrimination based on the "face test." "The burdens are likely to be felt by Latinos" because "employers will assume that someone who looks Latino is more likely to be undocumented."

The Basic Pilot Program, an optional electronic employment verification system run by the federal government, the use of which is highly encouraged by, and sometimes mandated by Hazleton's ordinance, was a topic of extensive discussion this morning. It has historically been error prone, according to studies cited by Mr. Rosenblum.
Basic Pilot "wrongly non-confirms too many" because there are a "number of sources of error and opportunities for legal citizens and legal non-citizens to be not confirmed," Mr. Rosenblum said. A common problem is the fact that information on legal immigrants does not get transferred into the databases that Basic Pilot checks in a timely manner. Name spellings and name orders of legal non-citizens authorized to work in the U.S. are often entered in error during registration of new persons. Also problematic are transposed social security numbers and birthdays for U.S. citizens.

Rosenblum claims this all leads to "a relatively high percentage of false negatives," where "under 90% of legal non-citizens are confirmed." This number may even be lower, as it appears to be based on the fact that "27% of persons tentatively non-confirmed who appeal are found to be legally employable." And "73% of employers don't properly notify employers [of their rights to appeal] when tentatively non-confirmed."

Defense attorney Kris Kobach, who Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta admitted in yesterday's testimony was the chief counsel in drafting the embattled legislation, took the opportunity to cross-examine Mr. Rosenblum. While previous witnesses have stuttered, stammered, and even changed the subject when asked for specific substantiation of their claims or conclusions, Mr. Rosenblum consistently cited specific studies, legislation, and previous expert opinion whenever pressed by Mr. Kobach.

The only exception to this was when Mr. Kobach asked Mr. Rosenblum whether he's done any specific studies on, or had any statistics with regards to, the effects the specific ordinance in Hazleton. Mr. Rosenblum had to remind Mr. Kobach on several occasions that the ordinance in Hazleton is under injunction and never went into effect, therefore making it impossible to be studied.

Also somewhat dubious was Mr. Kobach's introduction of, and questioning on, statistics from the updated Temple - Westat Immigration Reform Report, which is not yet publicly available. Mr. Rosenblum has repeatedly cited the most recent 2002 report. Neither Mr. Rosenblum nor the plaintiffs have seen, or were previously aware of, the statistics Mr. Kobach brought up.

Just before lunch break, Mr. Walczak asked Judge James M. Munley to order Mr. Kobach to produce these statistics. Mr. Kobach responded he "would be happy to do a web search" to try to find them.

Abe in Scranton

Special note: Thanks to Northeast Chapter board member Abe Allen for filling in on the blog!

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But enough about us, what are others saying about us?

There were some comments earlier in the week about us giving both sides of the story in our blogging at the Hazleton trial. Since this is the blog of the ACLU of PA, that's not going to happen, but here is a collection of articles from today's papers about yesterday's proceedings.

AP (by way of the Philadelphia Inquirer): At trial, Hazleton mayor defends his stance on illegal immigrants

Pittsburgh Post Gazette: Hazleton mayor, ACLU square off over immigration

(Wilkes Barre) Times Leader: Barletta grilled on views

The Times Leader also has video of Vic Walczak talking with the press after yesterday's proceedings, which you can get by clicking here.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Data? We don't need no stinking data

The afternoon session of Day III of the Hazleton anti-immigrant trial in Scranton featured Mayor Lou Barletta on the stand all afternoon, and he spent much of that time explaining his understanding of the various ordinances the city passed to "make Hazleton the toughest city for illegal aliens in the country."

Vic started by using the language of the ordinance, which states the usual claims about the negative impact of undocumented immigrants on crime, schools, and public services. It became clear that there are no statistics on how often city services- be it fire, code enforcement, garbage collection, or others- are used for undocumented immigrants. Frustrated, Barletta responded.

"Here's what I do know," the mayor said. "Every time we send a code officer, every time we send a firefighter, every time we send a city official to deal with a situation with illegal immigrants it affects the city of Hazleton."

Vic's questions were yes and no questions, i.e. "Do you have data on how many fire calls were for illegal immigrants," so after the mayor attempted to pontificate a few times, Vic replied, "Mayor, can we agree that you've now made your speech?"

Barletta responded, "That's not a speech. Those are facts." Eventually, Judge Munley had to step in to explain to Barletta that yes and no answers suffice in response and a "brief explanation" would be allowed only "if necessary."

Since last summer, the mayor has been talking about the impact of undocumented immigrants on Hazleton's schools, of which the city has no jurisdiction, as Barletta admitted under oath. He estimated that 15 or 16 municipalities make up the Hazleton Area School District and noted that he does not know how many students are "illegal aliens."

But he stated that an increase in the English as a Second Language (ESL) budget to more than $1 million this year is a sign that illegal immigrants have increased in the area. Via questioning from Vic, the mayor admitted that legal immigrants also need ESL and agreed "that's a good thing" since he has been pushing for new immigrants to learn English.

Continuing on education, Vic asked if the mayor has data on average test scores at Hazleton schools since the ordinance states that illegal immigrants contribute to "failing schools" or if he knows if the school's current scores are higher or lower than three years ago. The mayor said he "read an article" in a local paper that quoted a school official who was concerned about test scores.

The mayor and his supporters have been hanging their hat on the impact that undocumented immigrants have on crime. Although crime statistics will be discussed in greater detail later in the week when the Hazleton chief of police takes the stand, Vic and Barletta explored the issue.

As revealed under questioning, an article in the Hazleton Standard Speaker cited 47 crimes committed by undocumented immigrants in "the greater Hazleton area" (the city, the borough of West Hazleton, and Hazle Township) in 2006.

According to the city police department, there were 1400 crimes in the city alone in 2006.

"I didn't need numbers," the mayor said. "That was given to you because you wanted numbers."

Vic also asked about the "287g process," which is a program of the federal government that trains state and local law enforcement to assist with immigration enforcement.

Although illegal immigrants are "destroying" Hazleton, as the mayor told the Philadelphia Inquirer in July of last year, the city has yet to sign up for the program, which came out in today's testimony. Barletta stated that the police chief is looking into that possibility.

The lawyer and the witness spent the late afternoon vetting the machinations of the ordinance and how it will function. Although his outward appearance was one of self-confidence, the mayor's own words suggested uncertainty on how the city will determine a person's status. At one point, he said that it would be done through the Department of Homeland Security, but 2 minutes later he stated that it would be done through the Department of Justice.

The city does not yet have a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with any federal agency to perform this task, and when Vic asked, "No one has told you that you're getting an MOU, is that correct," the mayor responded, "Not at this time."

In fact, the city only signed up to participate in the Basic Pilot Program as an employer in late October, three months after the passing of the first ordinance when city officials were stating that illegal immigrants were destroying the city. (The Basic Pilot Program is an electronic service run by the feds that employers may sign up for to verify an employee's status.)

Tomorrow Mayor Barletta will be back on the stand to face questioning from his own counsel. Before he testifies, though, the plaintiffs will call Professor Marc Rosenblum of the University of New Orleans, whose areas of expertise include political science and immigration.

Andy in Harrisburg in Scranton

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Is it getting hot in here?

Day III of the Hazleton anti-immigrant trial kicked off today with testimony from Manuel Saldaña, president of Casa Dominicana of Hazleton, a plaintiff in the suit. Mr. Saldaña testified about the impact of the ordinance on life in the town, as witnesses before him have done.

"I thought that it would cause much confusion and nervousness for residents- Hispanic residents of Hazleton- given that no one has a sign on their forehead with their legal status," he said.

But the stars of the morning were ACLU-PA legal director Vic Walczak and Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta, who took the stand around 10:30.

Vic started the questioning by painting the picture of Hazleton and led Mayor Barletta in that direction. They talked about the mayor's decision to reduce the police force at a time when the city's population was increasing. The Department of Justice recommends 2 police officers per 1,000 residents. In 2000 with a population of 23,000, Hazleton had 42 police officers. Due to budget issues, the force went down to 23 officers in 2001, according to the mayor's testimony. In January of last year, the force was up to 27 to 30 officers, according to the mayor, and is now at 33, still nine officers below its 2000 numbers and, with a population today of 30-33,000, well-below the DOJ's recommendation of 60 officers for a city that size.

But crime is the fault of "illegal aliens." (Take note that the mayor just walked by me as I typed that. But he didn't look at my laptop.)

Barletta characterized the decisions about the police force as "unpopular decisions."

Vic also raised reports that property values and assessed values have increased for three straight years, the first time that has happened since 1995-97.

Several times, the mayor appeared to be unnerved by Vic's questioning. Vic asked him if undocumented immigrants engage in "consumer spending." At this, Barletta became agitated about discussing the economic value of "illegal aliens," but Vic cut him off by saying, "I'm not asking you for a value judgment."

Later, Vic asked the mayor if he and the city solicitor discussed NAFTA, the United States' treaty obligations, the presidents of Guatemala and Mexico, or the implications for the country if every U.S. city passed an ordinance like Hazleton's. The answer, obviously, was no.

More to come later today.

Andy in Harrisburg in Scranton

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Hazleton trial heats up with testimony from Hazleton City Council President Joseph Yanuzzi

(A note about language: attorneys for both sides use the terms "illegal immigrants" and "illegal aliens" rather than our preferred term, "undocumented immigrants," so I am using the first term to give a more accurate picture of what transpired in the courtroom.)

The combination of the post-lunch lull and a decidedly warm courtroom could have been a disaster, but the afternoon session trial turned out to be quite lively after City Council President Joseph Yanuzzi took the stand.

Under examination by plaintiff's attorney Tom Wilkinson, it quickly became clear that the Hazleton City Council had acted with little information or preparation in passing their anti-immigrant ordinances. In the initial "Illegal Immigration Relief Act Ordinance," it states that "the People of the City of Hazleton find and declare: That illegal immigration leads to higher crime rates, contributes to overcrowded classrooms and failing schools, subjects our hospitals to fiscal hardship…."

One would have assumed that before passing a law making such claims, the City Council members would have done their homework, but under questioning it became clear that the amount of research they did on the subject wouldn't even qualify for a high school term paper.

Despite the "findings" listed in the ordinance, the City Council never undertook a study or hired an outside consultant to review the perceived problem of illegal immigrants. They never brought their concerns about the alleged increase in the illegal immigrant population to the attention of ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement, formerly the INS) or Homeland Security, which have programs and grant money available to address these problems.

Yanuzzi testified that illegal immigrants increased violent crime in particular, but admitted that he had no statistics or other evidence to support that contention.

Who had informed the city council that illegal immigrants create increased crime? "Mayor Barletta." Anyone else? "No. That was all I need," said Yanuzzi.

The Hazleton City Council president also attested to the fact that they had never had any communication with the Hazleton Area School District, a separate government entity with a separate budget, about these allegedly overcrowded classrooms. They also had no testimony or statistics from the hospital about the financial hardships they supposedly faced because of illegal immigrants. Yanuzzi did add that he had spoken to someone from the hospital informally and anecdotally about the fact that illegal aliens are a drain on resources. Yanuzzi helpfully clarified that waiting times in the ER had greatly increased because "illegal immigrants use it to go in for splinters."

Tensions erupted at the end of the day, when Wilkinson asked Yanuzzi if he now regretted the fact that the city council had not studied the issue more before passing the ordinance, given the potential harm it could cause. Yanuzzi responded, "Every law we make, somebody's going to be hurt. There is no 100 percent. I pass the pooper-scooper law, what am I going to do - study that? We can't have consultants come here every two seconds."

"So removing these people from town who are working, living, employed is just the same thing as removing something off the sidewalk?" Wilkinson asked pointedly.

"You're talking about a person that is, first off, illegal," Yanuzzi said, starting to get agitated. At this point the judge broke in to stop the proceedings and soon ended the session for the day.

Incidentally, defense attorneys had made last-minute attempt to prevent Yanuzzi from testifying by citing "legislative privilege" in a motion they filed at 9 pm the night before, despite knowing for months that he was to be called. Judge Munley ruled against them, saying he didn't like to be "ambushed."

Sara in Philly in Scranton

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"We just want to be part of the United States of America"

The Hazleton trial resumed today with another appearance by Dr. Agapito Lopez, a resident of Hazleton and a leader in the Latino community there. His testimony underscored the xenophobia that lingers on the fringes of these anti-immigrant ordinances, and how they give implicit permission for latent racism to rise to the surface. Dr. Lopez read from the hate mail that he received after the ordinances were proposed. The first piece he received said that "European Americans" are becoming "dispossessed," that "'coloreds' will take control," and that the United States was going the route of South Africa, where "the whites have been stripped of their rights." When asked his reaction to the letter, he quietly replied, "It made me very, very sad. We just want to be part of the United States of America, on equal terms."

Other pieces of hate mail contained veiled threats. "We think you and Anna [Dr. Lopez's wife] ought to think twice before you speak," read one letter sent to the Lopezes' home. As with the other letters, the sender of this neglected to sign his or her name. Another read, "if it's brown, flush it down" next to a caricature of a Mexican man wearing a sombrero with the phrase "subhuman spic scum" written on it. Dr. Lopez testified that he has been identified as a leader in the challenge to these ordinances, and these letters were attempts to intimidate him. At the suggestion of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, he took the letters to the police, who told him they were not hate mail and that they would not be investigating them.

The morning also saw testimony from Jose Molina, Regional Director for Northeast Pennsylvania for Pennsylvania Statewide Latino Coalition (PSLC), who talked about his group mobilized to support the Latino community in Hazleton. PSLC is a plaintiff in the case.

Sara in Philly in Scranton

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Monday, March 12, 2007

"If you speak English, you're not a criminal."

In the afternoon session at the Hazleton anti-immigrant trial, three Hazleton residents testified that the ordinance negatively impacted life in the city.

"Everything has totally changed," said local businessman Jose Lechuga, who noted that racism and "hatred" became more prominent after the passing of the ordinance.

Through an interpreter, Lechuga talked about his neighbor, who previously seemed to trust him. "One day I asked her what she thought of Mr. Barletta's ordinances," he said. "She said that if you speak English, you're not a criminal."

Lechuga also talked about an incident in which several men followed him into his store and told him that he would have to change his signs from Spanish to English. "I wondered what was going on, why would I have to change my signs."

Immediately after the lunch break and before Lechuga's testimony, Dr. Agapito Lopez talked about the change in the Latino community after the passing of the ordinance. "You could see the fear in their eyes."

Dr. Lopez also addressed the impact on the entire Latino community--citizens, documented, and undocumented.

"Latinos are like a family," Dr. Lopez said. "What affects one of us affects all of us."

This point in particular seems lost on the nearly-all-white defense team, which has worked tirelessly this first day to draw lines between undocumented immigrants (or "illegal aliens," to use their words) and citizens and documented immigrants.

On cross-examination, defense counsel asked Lechuga if the customers of his grocery store were documented and undocumented immigrants.

"I don't think that's my job to find out," Lechuga replied.

Throughout the afternoon, the defense team has attempted to show that the Lechuga's businesses were failing before the ordinance and that documented immigrants had nothing to fear from the new law. The testimony of Dr. Lopez and Mr. Lechuga, along with Rosa Lechuga, Jose's wife, and Pedro Lozano, who also testified this afternoon, made it clear that there was a marked difference in the business climate and the neighborhood environment after the passing of the ordinance last summer.

In fact, the Lechugas have lived in Hazleton since 1991 but are currently in the process of relocating to Arkansas.

When proceedings ended for the day, our team briefly addressed the media and addressed yet another change to the ordinance, which defense counsel referred to in its opening statement.

Both ACLU-PA legal director Vic Walczak and ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said that the change doesn't affect the impact of the ordinance.

"The ordinance turned the city into a climate of xenophobia," Romero said. "It turned citizen against citizen.

"The intent of the ordinance was to promote discrimination."

Andy in Harrisburg in Scranton

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Live from Scranton

The following is the first dispatch from the ACLU staff attending the Hazleton trial in Scranton:

The trial challenging Hazleton's anti-immigrant ordinance started today in Scranton in northeast PA with ACLU-PA legal director Witold "Vic" Walczak calling Hazleton mayor Lou Barletta an "opportunistic mayor" and the "chief story teller" in his opening statement, leading the mayor to bite his lip at one point and laugh at another.

Calling the ordinance "a shortcut through the U.S. Constitution," Vic noted that the city has every right to weigh in on the immigration debate "but cannot pass laws to regulate immigration."

Vic showed two tales of one city with the mayor’s belief that all that ails Hazleton is a result of undocumented immigrants and the Latino community's belief that they have revitalized the city. "The mayor's claims cannot be backed up by empirical evidence," Vic said.

As recently as October, at a PA Press Club meeting, Barletta claimed that statistics are "for outsiders." But in the defendants' open, counsel Kris Kobach noted that there were three arrests of "illegal aliens" in 2004, five in 2005, and 19 in 2006. Defense counsel went through a long outline of reasons why he feels Hazleton is within the bounds of the Constitution. It was like listening to an evolutionary biologist spend hours talking about the bacterial flagellum. Not that I know anyone who has had to go through that torture.

The plaintiffs' first witness, Dr. Agapito Lopez, took the stand this morning and stated that Hazleton was "a ghost town" when he arrived in 2001. Dr. Lopez was in the middle of cross-examination at the lunch break.

Andy in Harrisburg in Scranton

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

NY Times: Gonzales' time is up

Calling him "The Failed Attorney General," the New York Times today called for the ouster of AG Alberto Gonzales, based largely on numerous civil rights and constitutional violations:
He has never stopped being consigliere to Mr. Bush's imperial presidency. If anyone, outside Mr. Bush's rapidly shrinking circle of enablers, still had doubts about that, the events of last week should have erased them.
The administration said that, as with many powers it has arrogated since the 9/11 attacks, this radical change was essential to fast and nimble antiterrorism efforts, and it promised to police the use of the letters carefully.

But like so many of the administration's promises, this one evaporated before the ink on those letters could dry. The F.B.I. director, Robert Mueller, admitted Friday that his agency had used the new powers improperly.
It was Mr. Gonzales, after all, who repeatedly defended Mr. Bush's decision to authorize warrantless eavesdropping on Americans' international calls and e-mail. He was an eager public champion of the absurd notion that as commander in chief during a time of war, Mr. Bush can ignore laws that he thinks get in his way.
The attorney general helped formulate and later defended the policies that repudiated the Geneva Conventions in the war against terror, and that sanctioned the use of kidnapping, secret detentions, abuse and torture. He has been central to the administration's assault on the courts, which he recently said had no right to judge national security policies, and on the constitutional separation of powers.

His Justice Department has abandoned its duties as guardian of election integrity and voting rights. It approved a Georgia photo-ID law that a federal judge later likened to a poll tax, a case in which Mr. Gonzales's political team overrode the objections of the department's professional staff.

The Justice Department has been shamefully indifferent to complaints of voter suppression aimed at minority voters. But it has managed to find the time to sue a group of black political leaders in Mississippi for discriminating against white voters.

No one should hold their breath that Gonzo is going anywhere anytime soon. But kudos to the Times for keeping the heat on an administration that continues to abuse our basic constitutional protections.

Here is national ACLU's response to the revelation about the PATRIOT Act.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Friday, March 09, 2007

I hate to say we told you so, but....

And they all said we were paranoid. Of course the government would never misuse the excessive powers given to them under the PATRIOT Act. Only a bunch of anti-American pinko commies would even suggest such a thing.

Except that now the Justice Department’s own Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has more than just suggested such a thing - it flat out said in a report issued today that the FBI has misused the provision of the PATRIOT Act that allows the agency to demand sensitive personal information without judicial supervision.

According to the Washington Post, the OIG "found that FBI agents used national security letters without citing an authorized investigation, claimed 'exigent' circumstances that did not exist in demanding information and did not have adequate documentation to justify the issuance of letters."

This is the part where we get to say "I told you so" (but in a really nice way, of course). Check out the ACLU's 2003 report, Unpatriotic Acts: The FBI's Power to Rifle Through Your Records and Personal Belongings Without Telling You.

Ya know, maybe that whole "checks and balances" thing wasn't such a bad thing after all. Congress, you might want to look into it.

Sara in Philly

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Reps. Josephs, Siptroth, and 23 others: Roll back Real ID

In a press release issued on Monday, Representative Babette Josephs (D-Philadelphia) called on Pennsylvania "to join the growing number of states objecting to yet another federal unfunded mandate -- known as Real ID" and announced the introduction of House Resolution 100 with 23 co-sponsors from both parties to state the Commonwealth's opposition.
"Implementing Real ID not only will be a drain on Pennsylvania's finances to implement, at a cost of $100 million, it will cause confusion and delay for driver’s seeking to renew their driver’s licenses. It also will be an infringement on citizen civil liberties and state rights," Josephs said. "At least six state legislatures have already voted to ignore the federal law, and others are viewing the law with distaste and mistrust.

"The federal government says this law was enacted to protect citizens, but it actually could make it easier for us to be harmed," said Josephs, D-Phila., majority chairperson of the House State Government Committee.

Under the federal law, which purportedly was enacted as a way to prevent fraud after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, states would have to link their driver's license information to a national database. That database would be accessible by many entities, which could make it easier for personal information to be stolen, sold or even used for a purpose other than which Real ID was intended.

"The privacy of Pennsylvanians would be violated, directly as a result of Real ID," Josephs said.

Then at a transportation budget hearing on Tuesday, Rep. John Siptroth (D-Pike and Monroe Counties) question Transportation Secretary Allen Biehler about how PennDOT will deal with Real ID and stated, "I think it's time for Pennsylvania to join the other states" that have stated their opposition. Both Siptroth and Biehler noted that this will be costly for Pennsylvania and slow down the process of driver's license renewal. The days of renewing over the internet will be over.

Of course, we agree that it's high time for Pennsylvania to send the feds a clear message that Real ID is unacceptable.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

An insatiable appetite for kicking people around

On Sunday, the New York Times reported that farmers in Colorado will replace migrant workers, who left the state after tough new immigration restrictions were put into place, with prisoners. Now, there's probably something to be said for prisoners having the opportunity to be outside and doing something that keeps them active.

But here's the kicker: The prisoners' pay for a day's work in the fields? $.60 per day. This program bears a strange resemblance to another former government program.

This program, if done right, could actually be a good thing for the prisoners. They have an opportunity to get out of the jail and put their energy into something productive. If they would be paid a reasonable wage, even minimum wage, it would give them an opportunity to sock away some money in preparation for their release. (See this op-ed from Sunday's Patriot News on what ex-offenders face when they leave prison.)

But paying them $.60 a day is just exploitative.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Undercover at the CPAC conference

Actually, the ACLU can go to the Conservative Political Action Committee conference without cover. We've handed out literature there.

But Max Blumenthal of The Nation went with video camera in hand. Some of the highlights:

  • Confronting pundit Michelle Malkin about her support of internment camps.
  • Asking supporters of anti-immigrant zealot Rep. Tom Tancredo, who refers to Miami as "a third world country," about "white power."
  • Catching up with ACLU member Bob Barr.
  • And, of course, Ann Coulter's homophobic slur.

A fine time was had by all.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Guest Blogger: Carrie Roush

Carrie Roush is a senior political science major at Dickinson College in Carlisle and is a community organizing intern with the ACLU of PA this semester.

Voting based on religion

Contrary to popular belief, we here at the ACLU do not hate religion. In fact, at its core, the ACLU believes that all religious beliefs should be treated equally and fairly, which is why it fights to protect federal and state neutrality towards religion by mounting political campaigns and supporting legal action that question government.

It might seem rather strange, then, that I have chosen to speak up in defense of one particular set of religious beliefs in this blog. Religion in American politics has always been sort of an odd duck in the realm of economically-developed, democratic nations who espouse no state-sponsored religion; if we tout the "separation of church and state" doctrine, then why is a presidential candidate's religious beliefs such a big deal?

Case in point: Mitt Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts is a practicing Mormon, who "doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, and doesn't swear. His wife said that, even in private, he never raises his voice.". Sounds like a pretty upstanding guy. (Except for that whole anti-choice, anti-gay marriage thing.) But according to recent poll data—including one released as early as November 2006 by independent polling firm Rasmussen Reports—have reported numbers as high as 43% of Americans stating that they would "never even consider" voting for a Mormon candidate.

While this may not strike some as prejudicial—even though a lot of Americans don't even really understand what Mormonism is—think about what this would mean for any other "minority" candidate. What if the same information were to be released regarding a black candidate? Or a woman candidate? (By the way, there's officially one of each in the running for a 2008 bid.) "Never even consider?" Those are some pretty strong words. I can guarantee you that every major news network would've been all over the story had 43% of Americans decided that they would "never even consider" voting for a particular candidate based on race or gender.

The federal government may not be legally barring Mormons from the presidency, but it seems more than just a little suspicious that in the 218 years of the executive, there has only been one non-Protestant president (JFK, for you history buffs). And while it may, ultimately, be a cause of prejudices in the American public itself, it just seems unfair that we recognize that it is not appropriate to discuss race or gender in this way, but it is perfectly acceptable to voice such strong prejudices against one for his religious beliefs. When it comes down to it, a president should be able to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster if he so chooses, as long as he is competent and doesn't push his religious beliefs on the American public. (I'll reserve the obvious comments regarding our current president.) And so, a note to Mr. Mitt Romney: I may not agree with you politically, but keep on keepin' on. It'll at least make for an interesting primary season.