Thursday, March 27, 2008

Hazleton Mayor Prejudiced, Pennsylvania ACLU Legal Director Tells Rotary

Last August, the Rotary Club of Lancaster invited Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta to speak on the subject of his city's crackdown on illegal immigrants.

It is said that Rotary gave him a standing ovation.

Today, they heard from someone who says that Mr. Barletta's claims linking immigrants with increases in crime and burdens on social services, are unfounded.

Vic Walczak is the Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, a position he has held since 2004. He was co-counsel in the nationally noted 2005 challenge to the teaching of Intelligent Design in the Dover Area School District in York County. He also lead the charge against Hazleton's anti-immigration ordinance in 2006.

He is also the son of a Polish Holocaust survivor and he experienced martial law in Poland when he traveled to Poland before attending law school at Boston University.

Prompted largely by the murder of Derek Kichline by two undocumented immigrants in May 2006, Mayor Barletta and the Hazleton City Council decided that immigrants as a group were causing a rise in crime and draining the city's resources, Walczak explained.

But actual statistics do not bear out any such claim, he argued.

Over a 6-year period in Hazleton, 428 violent crimes were committed, Walczak related. "Four were committed by illegal immigrants."

"Studies show that the vast majority of immigrants come to this country, they work hard, and that when you have a large influx of immigrants, crime actually goes down. First-generation immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than citizens," he continued.

He also argued we should look back historically and realize that we're not proud of certain eras which were characterized by hostility to other groups such as Catholics, Jews, Asian Americans, Italians, and others.

Walczak believes that the real impetus behind the anti-illegal immigration movement is "to demonize Latinos" and, unfortunately, "appearance and accent becomes a proxy."

Mr. Walczak also gave his talk to a "Community Immigration Forum" hosted by the ACLU of Pennsylvania and other sponsoring organizations at Southern Market Center, Wednesday night.