Hazleton's Anti-Illegal Immigrants Law Challenged Hazleton, Pa., a small town near Scranton, passed a law punishing businesses who hire illegal immigrants and landlords who rent to them. A federal judge blocked enforcement of the law, pending a trial on its legality. That trial began Monday.
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Hazleton's Anti-Illegal Immigrants Law Challenged

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Hazleton's Anti-Illegal Immigrants Law Challenged

Hazleton's Anti-Illegal Immigrants Law Challenged

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris.

A federal trial started today in a suit against laws aimed at illegal immigration in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The measures penalize those who hire -and landlords who rent to - undocumented workers.

The mayor says Hazleton needs the laws because crime by illegal immigrants is forcing the city to spend more on social services. But opponents of the laws are suing, saying they encourage discrimination.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden is at the courthouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania, where the trial is being held. She joins us now. Jennifer, what's the national significance of this case?

JENNIFER LUDDEN: Well, Michele, about 100 cities have passed or are considering similar ordinances to this. And they're all watching to see what happens here. Of course, this also comes at a time of great national debate on immigration. And, while today, the discussion at the courtroom touched on legalities of this law, mostly what we heard was this competing portrait of the role of Hispanic immigrants - legal and illegal - in our society today.

The plaintiff called it the tale of two cities. He - he's with the ACLU - laid out how the influx of Hispanics that moved to Hazleton after 9/11, a lot of them from New York. They were afraid of living there after the terror attacks, and they came for the same reasons of other people - quality of life, cheaper cost of living.

And he describes how they revitalized the community that had been a ghost town before - empty storefronts - and made the economy boom in large part because of their presence. In the plaintiff's view, this happy landscape was really up-ended by the anti-illegal immigrant ordinance that Hazleton passed last summer. He said it instilled this atmosphere of fear and division, and is has now driving Hispanics out of the town.

Now the lawyers for the defense painted a very different portrait. They opened by describing the murder of a young man last spring, allegedly by four illegal immigrants. They spoke with the emergence of gangs and exponential increase in crime in a city that's rarely seen violent crime, and said the economy has not suffered since the passage of this law.

NORRIS: So those were opening arguments. As the trial continues, who else do you expect to hear from and testify?

LUDDEN: Well, we heard today from several legal Hispanic residents of Hazleton. And it linked from a Mexican couple, Jose and Rose la Chugas(ph). They talked about how they come to Hazleton for a better life. They've got four American children. They owned a Mexican food store and a restaurant. And they said that after the ordinance has passed, people were afraid to come to their stores, and business dried up. And now they've closed both businesses and have moved away.

They said their children were being taunted at school after this ordinance was passed. Now the defense, of cross-examining the la Chugas, really laid out how all these troubles they said had nothing to do with this ordinance. They said, in fact, Mr. la Chugas was a year behind in his mortgage. Well, before the law was passed, they showed that part of his problem was losses at another restaurant elsewhere because there had been an immigration raid on a nearby construction site, and a lot of his customers had been arrested and deported.

The defense also went over his back income tax statements and showed that his store in Hazleton has always had ups and downs. And they said that other Latino stores in Hazleton were doing just fine.

NORRIS: Jennifer, can you clear up something for me? How can a city pass a law on immigration when that's normally under federal jurisdiction?

LUDDEN: That really gets to the legal heart of a case. The plaintiffs say you can't do it, that local officials don't have the expertise and the intricacies of immigration law. They say it's not as simple as, you know, illegal is illegal. It's actually - there are lots of shades of gray in immigration law. And they say that the computer check systems that Hazleton says it would rely on to carry this out are insufficient. So it's actually unworkable.

The defense cited a legal precedent, quote, "concurrent enforcement," which basically says if you can uphold both federal law and local law in the same area, then courts have said that's okay.

NORRIS: Jennifer, thanks so much.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Jennifer Ludden, speaking to us from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

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