Judicial Watch held a fascinating briefing this morning at the National Press Club focusing on illegal immigration’s impact on local government. The speakers were Starletta Hairston (Former Council Member, Beaufort, SC), Louis Barletta (Mayor, Hazelton, PA) and our own Delegate Jackson Miller. The event painted a picture that will be familiar to many of you. Each of the participants was a political leader in an area affected by illegal aliens. Each tried to do something about it. And each in turn has been sued for their efforts.
Ms. Hairston discussed the decline in her home town as the Hispanic population grew 273% between 1990 and 2003. Her local hospitals were, at one point spending $12 million per year on indigent care. Her county’s schools were spending $22 million each year on ESL, while the federal government was reimbursing the entire state of South Carolina $2 million annually for the classes.
As a small business owner, Ms. Hairston described the effect illegal immigration has on the business climate in Beaufont. Illegal aliens were crowding out American workers and American owned businesses. Wages were falling – but only if companies were willing to hire illegal aliens. If you weren’t, you lost business because your labor costs were too high. In the end, Ms. Hairston and her husband moved their business out of South Carolina rather than hire undocumented workers.
As she described the situation in Beaufort, Ms. Hairston frequently cited statistics on Hispanics and the behavior of the Hispanic population, which she acknowledged was problematic since most Hispanics are not illegal aliens. But, as Ms. Hairston pointed out, schools, hospitals and in some cases even police departments are prohibited from collecting citizenship data on their students, patients and inmates, making it impossible to distinguish between citizens, immigrants and illegal aliens.
Delegate Miller brought his unique law-enforcement perspective to the discussion by telling a few stories about gang members and other violent illegal aliens he encountered. But he was even more persuasive when he discussed the smaller things: over crowding, uninsured motorists and nascence crimes. While some illegal aliens are violent criminals, most are not – but that’s not the point. Even petty crimes, like driving without insurance, can have a huge impact on small communities.
Mayor Barletta had, by far, the best stories to tell. He described how Hazelton, PA, a town accustomed to one murder every seven years, declined to the point where murders were a weekly event. He eloquently described the day, May 10, 2005, when he realized he had lost his city. On that day a 14 year old illegal alien fired a gun into a playground full of children. That night, a resident was murdered in his driveway by two illegal aliens. This murder case alone cost the police half of its annual overtime budget.
Mayor Barletta’s primary accomplishment to that point had been taking a city facing a deficit of $1.5 million (out of a total budget of $6 million) and turning that into a half million dollar surplus. Now they are in the red again as police, health and education costs skyrocket.
You can read more about Hazelton’s efforts here.
All three speakers mentioned MS-13 gang activity in their jurisdictions. Mayor Barletta said openly that his town was not equipped to deal with such a violent organization. Delegate Miller praised Congressman Wolf’s efforts to combat the gang in Northern Virginia.
In each case, the jurisdictions involved tried to enact legislation in response to illegal aliens. Beaufort County and Hazelton both passed ordinances limiting access to businesses licenses to companies who hire illegal aliens. Hazelton also sought to punish landlords who rent to illegal aliens.
Manassas went a different route. It tried to define how distant a family member could be and still count as “family” under housing laws.
The result in each case was the same: lawsuits. Beaufort and Hazelton are being sued by the ACLU and other groups, Manassas by the DOJ and HUD. (I think the ACLU is also involved, although Delegate Miller didn’t actually mention them.)
When asked about Congress, all three had the same response, best summed up by Delegate Miller: “McCain – Kennedy is a farce.” He was referring to the big immigration bill that Senators McCain and Kennedy are about to introduce. It is expected to be very similar to the large immigration bill that failed to pass last year. Mayor Barletta commented that the McCain – Kennedy bill was designed to “calm” the public, rather than solve real problems.
Delegate Miller discussed why so few politicians were willing to fight for these issues, even though they have broad support in the general public. His answer: fear of being labeled a racist. As Delegate Miller pointed out, opponents of anti-illegal alien laws are well organized, well funded and know how to seize the rhetorical high-ground. Too many politicians would just rather not mess with them out of fear of being branded.
Both Miller and Barletta said most Hispanics in their communities support their position. Hispanics don’t like the crime, mess and crowding caused by illegal aliens any more than the rest of us. But, again out of fear, many are unwilling to speak up publicly to say so.
I think Ms. Hairston summed things up the best, saying “Everyone is entitled to respect, but everyone also has to follow the rules.”
The briefing brought together three good, reasonable, knowledgeable experts on the effects of illegal immigration on local communities. The stories they told provide strong evidence of the damage being done by our ineffective immigration policies. Their legal battles provide testimony to the strength of pro-illegal alien groups.
Overall, the briefing was well organized and attended, although also disappointing in two ways. First, Delegate Miller expressed his desire not to remain in office as a career – a statement I hope proves to be wrong. Second, only a few media outlets were in attendance. NPR was there, as were a few specialized publications, but none of the big networks. I suppose that is to be expected.
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