HAZLETON -- An already financially troubled city in Luzerne County is in even more debt now over a decision made nearly a decade ago.
A federal judge has ordered Hazleton to pay $1.4 million to lawyers who battled the city over a controversial illegal immigration ordinance. It's money that will be paid by taxpayers.
City officials say they are going into the next year with a budget deficit of $700,000.
"It shouldn't have been pursued by our former mayor. I think he got us into this and now we are suffering the consequences of his efforts," said Paul Comishock of Hazleton.
That former mayor, now Congressman Lou Barletta, stands by the ordinance.
His office issued a statement saying:
"The ruling is still wrong, and the dollar amount, frankly, pales in comparison to what illegal immigrants are costing Hazleton taxpayers in city services."
Essentially, the Illegal Immigration Relief Act passed in 2006 set out to penalize landlords in Hazleton who rented to undocumented immigrants and businesses that hired them.
"The critics took Hispanics and said that's who we were trying to eliminate. No, we were trying to eliminate illegals," said current Hazleton Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi.
Yannuzzi says the $1.4 million judgment against the city does not mean complete defeat, at least in two areas. The city doesn't have to pay the $2.8 million that was originally asked for in the lawsuit and part of the Illegal Immigration Relief Act can still be enforced.
"We can still have employers verify if they are citizens and if they are not we can remove their license," Yannuzzi said.
While a federal judge has ordered the city to pay $1.4 million as a result of the battle over the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, the mayor says the ordinance has never been enforced in any form.
City council will decide if part of it will be enforced after the upcoming November election.