Re-posted with permission from the Standard Speaker newspaper, serving Luzerne Carbon, Schuylkill, Columbia, and Monroe counties.
by MIA LIGHT, email@example.com
Shenandoah Borough Council Monday approved advertisement of its Illegal Immigration Relief Act, the controversial legislation that would penalize landlords and business owners who knowingly rent housing to or employ illegal immigrants. The Shenandoah ordinance is patterned after similar legislation that was recently adopted in Hazelton.
Prior to last month’s borough council meeting, Solicitor Michael O’Pake acquired a printed copy of the Hazleton ordinance, which council directed its attorney to use as a guideline in drafting for the borough a similar ordinance in time for this week’s regular council meeting.
Monday, O’Pake presented council with the prepared document, which was unanimously approved for advertisement. Its formal adoption as law is anticipated next month.
According to Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta, while the city ordinance drew criticism from opponents to the legislation, the number of favorable comments his office received greatly outnumbered the objections.
Similarly in Shenandoah, the ordinance was approved for advertisement before an audience of about a dozen citizens, with just one person speaking against the proposed legislation, terming it as possibly unconstitutional.
“Is this actually constitutional to do this?” asked Flor Gomez, owner of La Casita de Familia, a Mexican-style restaurant located at 8 E. Centre St. in the borough.
Gomez urged council to “think twice” and consider all possible ramifications of the law before approving it.
She said that many Hispanics, including legal immigrants and U.S. citizens, are currently being “picked on” and discriminated against. She said she fears the proposed law would add fuel to the fire.
She said she hopes that enforcement of the ordinance, should it pass into law, would pertain to undocumented immigrants of all nationalities, not just Latino immigrants.
Council President Leo Pietkiewicz assured Gomez that the law would target all illegal immigrants, not just those of the Hispanic population.
“If you’re Greek and you’re here illegally, this ordinance targets you. If you’re an illegal Polish immigrant, same thing,” Pietkiewicz said.
Gomez said the legislation would also place landlords in a no-win situation in which they may be sued by a prospective tenant who is denied occupancy after failing to prove his citizenship or legal immigration status.
However, O’Pake said that a landlord who obeys the law is protected from such a lawsuit. A landlord who obeys the law cannot be sued for denying housing to an immigrant who cannot prove his legal status because the action taken by the landlord was taken in an effort to obey the law, O’Pake said.
Gomez, a U.S. citizen who was born in Texas and has lived in Shenandoah for approximately six years, implored council to realize that most of the Latino people in Shenandoah obey the law and many contribute to the community by paying taxes.
At least four Latino families are business owners in the community, Gomez said, and two additional Latino families are interested in opening new businesses in the community.
Pietkiewicz assured Gomez that law-abiding citizens are welcome to live and work in Shenandoah.
O’Pake concurred: “This ordinance, like all ordinances, is designed to curtail illegal activity. An illegal person, someone who is here illegally, is in violation of the law. Law abiding citizens are not the target of this legislation.”
Borough Mayor Thomas O’Neill said, “This is a quality-of-life issue. What this ordinance will do is zero in on absentee landlords who don’t monitor the people who move into their properties. In my estimation, that’s what this is all about. It’s about quality of life in Shenandoah.”
The Shenandoah ordinance is expected to include in its ordinance similar language to the Hazleton ordinance, which declares: “That illegal immigration leads to higher crime rates, contributes to overcrowded classrooms and failing schools, subjects our hospitals to fiscal hardship and legal residents to substandard quality of care and destroys out neighborhoods and diminishes our overall quality of life.”
Bosun's comments: When the federal government and state government fail to act on immigrations matters it is left the the counties, cities, and boroughs to act. Shenandoah Borough has joined the City of Hazleton, and, one can expect the civil liberties groups, immigrant interest groups and other liberal organizations to join with activist groups who oppose immigration reform in in the City of Hazleton.
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