Wednesday, March 14, 2007

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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Blogger Atheism Quotes said...

I'd really like to see more examples posted of places in PA that are going *against* the philosophy of Hazelton.

I know we're seeing a (hopefully) small percentage of the people like this in PA, but between this and the ID trial, I have to say, PA isn't coming off too well :-( I just need a boost in my trust in humanity to know there are communities that believe in treating people as people.

Don't get me wrong. I'm originally from Ohio, and believe me, they're just as bad in some of these areas.

I just really feel some good news would be appreciated now. Seeing him compare a pooper-scooper law to immigration legislation just left a bad taste in my mouth.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See "Immigration: Changing the conversation in Lancaster" (

It is becoming more clear that the "build a big wall" anti-immigration activits are just your basic nativist/racists types. I think there are a lot of others who just haven't thought the issue through and don't yet realize who they have climbed into bed with.

2:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its too bad the judge cut Yanuzzi off, it sounds like he was about to lose it! He might have provided a few prime-time sound bites!

2:16 PM  
Blogger ACLU of Pennsylvania said...

I wish there *were* more places in PA going against the Hazleton philosophy and that there was better news. Unfortunately PA ranks as the state with the highest number of proposed anti-immigrant ordinances (several places are waiting to pass them until the Hazleton case ruling comes down). As Alan points out, Lancaster is the only place so far to go against the tide.

We're hoping to work on getting some other pro-immigrant resolutions passed. If you're interested in getting involved in that, email us at

Sara in Philly

5:03 PM  
Blogger ACLU of Pennsylvania said...

Also, Erie passed a pro-immigrant resolution in January 06 before the real dust-up started. There may be more pro-immigrant resolutions in the pipeline. We'll see.

I think a lot of it has to do with the difficulties people in eastern PA have had with adjusting to migrating populations from NJ and NYC.


6:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seems that the ACLU is not in consonance with the will of the people in this democracy. A small number of lawyers are trying to place impedements in the way of enforcing our immigration laws, laws established by our legislators through the democratic process. The ACLU has proven to be nothing but arrogant bastards that care nothing for our Consitution, but only for the illegal alien advocate's agenda. How ironic that an organization that once insisted on enforcement of our Civil Rights laws is now in the practice of obstructing the law themselves.

6:56 PM  

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