Immigration Debate Takes Dangerous Turn


Contact: Mary Moreno or Drew Courtney at People For the American Way

Email: [email protected]

Phone Number: 202-467-4999

Hazleton’s ‘Are Your Papers in Order?’ Ordinance Turns Businesses and Landlords into Immigration Agents; Un-American Copycat Legislation May Spread

The Hazleton, Pa. City Council on Thursday night passed a frightening piece of legislation that would force city businesses and landlords to demand proof of citizenship for people they do business with – or risk being put out of business. It would also prevent any city business from being conducted in any language other than English.

People For the American Way Vice President for Hispanic Affairs Jorge Mursuli called the Hazleton ordinance “an abhorrent new low for the anti-immigrant movement that has infected our political system.”

The ordinance would deny business permits and city contracts to any business that hires or “aids or abets” by any means, “no matter how indirect” any undocumented immigrant. Landlords would be fined $1,000 a day for renting to undocumented immigrants.

“Forcing businesses to check citizenship papers before selling someone food or clothing?” said Mursuli. “Turning landlords into involuntary agents of the state? This isn’t the America I know and love.”

The legislation says that “failure to act” in any way that “facilitates” an undocumented immigrant from being apprehended anywhere in the United States will violate the ordinance. In other words, store clerks will not only be required to determine that someone is a citizen before serving them, but will also be in violation unless they report anyone they suspect might be here illegally.

“What is this going to do for Hispanic citizens living in Hazleton?” said Mursuli. “Anyone who might look like an immigrant will face undue harassment and questioning by landlords and store merchants who fear fines or loss of their businesses. Daily life will become a series of assaults on their dignity.”

Mursuli noted that Avon Park, Fl. may follow suit after the mayor heard the idea on talk radio. “There is an ugly and ungenerous spirit being churned up by those who want to use immigrants as pawns in a political battle,” said Mursuli. “It’s not just in Hazleton. We just saw a majority of Republican members of Congress vote to do away with the language assistance provisions of the Voting Rights Act. Fortunately, they failed. But why would so many representatives want to make it harder for citizens to cast an informed vote? Why would a town with a growing Hispanic population make it illegal for a city worker to offer some guidance on city services in Spanish to a person who is working hard to become more proficient in English?”

It is not only irresponsible, but immoral and dishonest for Hazleton’s mayor to say the law is needed to protect the city against rising crime rates, crowded schools and fiscal hardships at the hospital without a shred of supporting evidence that the city’s problems are caused by undocumented immigrants.

“I work with recently naturalized citizens everyday, people whose families came America to live in freedom and build a better life,” said Mursuli. They’re eager to take part in the American Dream, eager to participate in our political process. This is a shameful slap in the face. The only good thing that can come out of this is that it will energize fair-minded Americans, and will encourage them to take a stand for human decency and prompt them to register and vote.”