Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Mayors

Mayor Barletta is a Yankees fan and Mayor DeStefano is a Mets fan, but their differences don't end there. Hazelton Mayor Lou Barletta and Mayor John DeStefano of New Haven, Connecticut appeared in the Sheehey Campus Center Thursday evening, October 23 to share their different policies concerning illegal immigrants. Mayor Barletta has taken measures to discourage illegal immigration to Hazelton, claiming illegal immigrants have increased crime there. In contrast, Mayor DeStefano has made efforts to make illegal immigrants feel like they belong, claiming that they are a vital part of the New Haven's economy. Mayor DeStefano appeared live from New Haven via telecast. The Times Leader and other news agencies were present. The event was an educational forum in which each Mayor made a twenty minute speech and then answered questions. Mayor DeStefano spoke first.

In New Haven, a city of 130,000 people, DeStefano estimates that 15,000 residents are illegal immigrants. After realizing that the federal government wasn't going to help curtail problems associated with illegal immigration, New Haven city officials decided to take action. Illegal immigrants were important to the well being of the city's economy, and many of their children were, in fact, United States citizens. Mayor DeStefano prefaced his city's policy:
"New Haven is not driven to have an individual foreign policy different than that of the United States. We're not trying to be a sanctuary city. We're not trying to hold ourselves out as a model. We're trying to make decisions that are good for us. Our decision is to be a safe city."

DeStefano continued that being a safe city means giving illegal immigrants the ability to report crimes they witness to the police without fear of deportation or inquiry into their immigration status. Since these reforms were instituted, New Haven's crime rate has decreased by 16%.

The city of New Haven also encourages modes of inclusion for resident illegal immigrants such as tax ID numbers which allow them to pay federal taxes, and, more famously, resident ID cards which help to ease their daily transactions. The Mayor lamented the activities of federal immigration agents who, according to affidavits, entered several homes for which they did not have search warrants.

DeStefano said in closing the nation deserves a coherent plan of immigration that would include a guest-worker program, pathway to citizenship and better border security.

Although Mayor Lou Barletta also believes that the federal government is not handling immigration well, he has had a different experience in Hazelton. Mayor Barletta welcomed the influx of new immigrants; many brought youth to the aging city. However, problems began adding up. For the four years following 2003 violent crime in Hazelton skyrocketed 300%. In a city which had previously experienced a murder every seven years or so, Barletta's eight years in office witnessed 13 homicides, 9 of them by illegals. 30% of all crimes were by illegals. Moreover, despite a 50% spike in population, tax revenue remained stagnant. The police department and other city services were overwhelmed.

"I didn't know what to do," said Barletta. The plight of the city that he had grown up in had left him heartbroken. After receiving no help from Washington, and hearing the concerns of residents, Mayor Barletta and city officials decided to take action. They introduced the Immigration Relief Act which would require all residents to verify citizenship with the Federal government upon applying for a job and would penalize businesses that hired illegals. Although the act was shot down in Federal Court, Barletta credits it with playing a role in the 40% reduction in violent crime from 2007 to 2008. The Hazelton Mayor noted how one man, a father of three who had moved to Hazelton from New York to get away from gangs, thanked him for his stance against crime.

Mayor Barletta finished by stating that legal immigrants such as a Romanian woman who worked for many years to get her family into the U.S. greatly support him. An attendee and King's alumnus who wished to remain anonymous reinforced this sentiment, stating that she, an immigrant, "backs Barletta 100%." Finally, Barletta proudly stated that Hazelton has encouraged Hispanic immigration, citing 60 new Hispanic businesses in the city and a growing Hispanic population.

After the speeches, the audience asked questions that reflected different points of view, but all present seemed to think the forum was a positive experience.

"I'm pleased that people respected others' opinions…and left thinking we should reach some understanding" said Angel L. Jirau, executive board member of the local NAACP chapter.

Joe Scarcella, a Hazelton native and Jr. at King's said "we need more events like this" that "give you an opportunity to test the truth of your convictions." Whether they hold up or not, he said, events like this "strengthen your belief system."

The primary organizer of the event, our own Brother George Schmitz, said "It was a wonderful opportunity for King's to offer an educational view of an issue rather than an emotionally charged debate." He concluded "It gives us a lot to think about and to talk about."

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