The Hazleton Rebellion

There have been several rebellions in American history which were important—not for their military power—but for their politics. The most important to date was Shays Rebellion in 1786. We may now be in the early stages of another such citizen’s revolt, the Hazleton Rebellion of 2007, a rebellion that is more a matter of life and death than its predecessor over two hundred years ago.

First, a brief review of the potential power of a citizen revolt, led by no one

of consequence, yet powerful because it strikes an essential chord with a significant

portion of American society. Shays Rebellion began when Daniel Shays lost his

farm in Massachusetts because he could not pay $12 in property taxes. He could

not pay that because the nation he had served in Washington’s army had

not paid his back salary.

Shays was not alone in being cheated of his just pay for service in the American

Revolution. Hundreds of unpaid veterans joined him in demanding fair treatment.

These men were experienced soldiers who represented a serious threat to state

militias. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and surrounding states feared for

their safety.

All states understood that the rebellion could spread among unpaid veterans across

the Union. The rebellion was a major influence in the abandonment of the failed

Articles of Confederation (the first government of the United States) and in

the calling of the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, which produced a better and

more permanent government through the writing of the U.S.Constitution.

One of the first acts of the new government under the Constitution was a plan

by the first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, to guarantee payment

in full of all just debts of the US government, including the unpaid veterans

of the Revolution. Though Shays Rebellion was broken up, it achieved its objectives – and

Shays was pardoned.

The Hazelton Rebellion began in 2005 with certain crimes in a small town in Pennsylvania.

There was a shooting in a playground. There was a shooting in the street. There

was a beating with baseball bats—all by illegal aliens. There were also rising

drug trading and use, HIV and tuberculosis, and other social problems, connected

to these aliens. Mayor Lou Barletta decided to see if there were any ordinances

the town could adopt to deal with these problems.

The town of Hazelton developed and passed three ordinances, which accomplished

two purposes. First, after review and revision, the ordinances required that

landlords who knowingly rented to illegal aliens could lose their licenses to

rent apartments. Second, employers who knowingly employed illegal aliens could

lose their licenses to do business in the town.

Two organizations immediately attacked in court the actions of Hazleton—the

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Puerto Rican Legal & Education

Fund. (This Rebellion will be fought out almost entirely in the courts, rather

than any physical battlefield.) As this Rebellion has spread to towns, counties,

and now to occasional state legislatures, many legislators interested in the

subject of run-away illegal immigration have backed off from possible legislation

in fear of the costs of litigation, launched by the ACLU and its allies.

Among many examples, Arcadia, Wisconsin, was considering adopting ordinances

along the lines of Hazleton in September 2006. The local ACLU threatened to file

suit. The City Attorney then recommended that the town not act to avoid the cost

of litigation.

Hazleton has not backed down. It has decided to stand and fight. To defend its

ordinances, Hazelton has employed the former head of immigration law as its counsel.

And with the aid of public interest law firms, it seems prepared to carry the

fight all the way to the US Supreme Court. Both because it is prepared to fight

and because it is one of the first cases filed, the Hazleton case is likely to

be the test case decided by the US Supreme Court.

As stated at the beginning of this article, the Hazleton Rebellion is more a

matter of life and death than was Shays Rebellion. A recent article (by Joseph

Farah (WorldNetDaily, 11/28/06) has aggregated the deaths caused by criminal

aliens (not all illegal) in the United States into two categories. One is deaths

caused by auto accidents, usually due to drunk driving; the other is murders,

most often due to drug deals or human smuggling. In each of these categories,

the death rate of Americans is far greater than the death rate of Americans in

the current wars overseas.

Even worse is that a majority of the deaths of Americans due to illegals could

have been prevented, as the alien had been previously deported, sometimes several

times. In fact, a recent Justice Department audit revealed that over 70% of illegal

aliens arrested had previously been arrested for five or more other crimes.

Can the Hazleton Rebellion have influences as strong as the Shays Rebellion?

Probably not. It is not likely to bring down the US government and cause a new

one to be created. On the other hand, this Rebellion can have a profound and

permanent influence on the future of the US.

If Hazleton prevails at the Supreme Court, winning a judgment that it was acting

within its legitimate powers on behalf of its citizens, there will probably be

an avalanche of such ordinances and laws passed by local and state governments

across the country. The history of actions taken but then reversed, or begun

but not carried through, in many jurisdictions shows that the threat of litigation

costs is the principal factor preventing action. Once that threat is eliminated,

many municipalities will finally feel free to act.

What are the elements of a “Hazleton” jurisdiction? How widespread

is the Rebellion, today? What are the legal arguments and their probable fate?

Before answering those questions, it should be noted that some large jurisdictions

have gone in the exact opposite direction. Los Angeles has, for instance, made

itself a “a sanctuary city” by establishing Special Order 40, which

provides that Los Angeles police officers shall not go looking for illegal immigrants

or ask the immigration status of suspects. The sanctuary jurisdictions can be

expected to stay on the opposite path from the Hazleton ones until there is a

voters’ revolt to crime and public costs due to illegals. Or, until the

sanctuary jurisdictions are overruled by the state or federal governments above


The most common provision in other Hazleton-like jurisdictions, though not in

Hazleton itself, is an English-only provision. Pahrump, Nevada, passed one of

these in November 2006. These vary widely in their terms, from those that are

little more than hortatory public statements to ones that are tightly written

and intended to be enforced. The last provision to appear in many local actions

is a bar to displaying the flags of other nations unless the US flag is also


How widespread is the Hazleton Rebellion? An Associated Press article on January

22 included an attempt to find all the jurisdictions around the country where

the issue of local reactions to illegal aliens was on the legislative table.

The AP cited “more than 100 jurisdictions” in 27 states. This is

a gross understatement of the breadth of these issues. The Puerto Rican Legal

Defense and Education Fund, which is co-leading the legal fight against these

ordinances, has nearly simultaneously listed a total of fifty-seven jurisdictions,

about half in Pennsylvania, where the issues are live.

The author of this article knows personally of efforts to introduce the alien

ordinances in hundreds of local jurisdictions in Texas and in Georgia, from inquiries

that came to him over the Internet. The ultimate conclusion is that the number

of local jurisdictions actively considering Hazleton-type ordinances is in the

low 1,000s, nationwide. And that is a fair proportion of the total of about 45,000

local governments nationwide.

The last and most complex question is, what will be the fate of all these ordinances

in court?

Legal opposition to these ordinances is more often than not led by the American

Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU makes two basic arguments in these challenges.

One is that “immigration is a national issue, not a local one, and local

governments are without authority to act on such a matter on their own.” The

other is that these ordinances are “discriminatory” because their

impact is dominantly on “brown people, who are Hispanics.” On either

basis, the ACLU argues that these ordinances are unconstitutional.

The trial courts which have first looked at these ordinances have sided with

the ACLU rather than the local governments. But trial courts do not have the

final word on a case that is certain to be reviewed by the Supreme Court.

The answers to these challenges are straightforward. The Constitution does give

the power to define and regulate immigration into the US solely to the Congress.

However, none of these local jurisdictions have sought to change in any way the

federal definition of who is, or is not, an illegal alien. All have accepted

as a given the federal definition of illegal aliens.

What the local jurisdictions have done is to make provisions suitable to them,

and applicable only within their boundaries, to promote the health, safety and

welfare of their own citizens. A simple glance at the history of “municipal

corporations,” which began during the Middle Ages (centuries before the

United States was a gleam in anyone’s eye), shows that they had these powers:

They could define who lived there, where they lived, where they worked, and what

work they did.

Every municipal corporation in the US which has “general powers” has

the same basis of legitimacy and extent of decision-making that the ancient municipal

corporations had in Europe, centuries ago. So, history teaches that Hazleton-type

ordinances, which apply solely within the boundaries of the town, are legitimate

to enact for the health, safety, and welfare of their own residents.

The discrimination charge is equally easy to dispense. Use death row as an example.

Many states have reenacted their death penalties with substantial restrictions.

For instance, they might apply it to “arson resulting in death.” There

are relatively few arsons resulting in death. African-Americans are proportionally

convicted more of such charges than any other racial group. By contrast, Asian-Americans

are proportionally less convicted of this offence. Does this mean there is racial

discrimination on this charge against the first group or in favor of the second?

No. It simply means that members of different groups demonstrate less, or greater,

tendency to commit certain offenses. Exactly the same logic applies to illegal


The United States has two long borders which are largely unprotected. To the

north is Canada, consisting mostly of Caucasians who speak English. To the south

is Mexico, consisting mostly of non-Caucasians who speak Spanish. Neither Hazleton,

nor any of the other concerned local governments, currently have a problem with

illegal Canadians who get drunk and kill local residents on the highways, or

who shoot local officials. They are having a problem with Mexicans who do these


It is the individual decision of most Canadians not to invade the US by coming

across the border illegally. It is the individual decision of millions of Mexicans

to invade the US by coming across the border illegally. There is no discrimination

in treating all illegal aliens equally within the boundaries of Hazleton, or

any other town. It is the illegal aliens, by deciding to cross the border illegally

and then to relocate to Hazleton, who bring themselves within the ambit of these


In numerous cases, the Supreme Court has held that there is no discrimination

where a law has statistically disparate impact on religious or racial groups

in American society, if that disparity is due to the combined effect of personal

decisions by individuals on how to lead their lives. Nothing more than that is

present here.

So, when the US Supreme Court makes the final decision on the constitutionality

of the Hazleton ordinances, it should uphold them. And, immediately after that

decision comes down, there should be a deluge of similar ordinances passed locally,

nationwide. And finally, there will be the educational contrast in crime rates

and public expenses between the sanctuary jurisdictions and the Hazleton ones.

The ultimate result of the Hazleton Rebellion can be, and should be, the recognition

by Congress that it must establish effective control of our borders.

Our first rebellion had the slogan, “No taxation without representation.” The

slogan for this rebellion should be, “A nation which cannot control its

borders cannot control its destiny.”

Note: The subject of illegal aliens and Hazleton-type ordinances is a fast-changing

story, on which the Internet is far more useful than the mainstream media, as

of now. Those interested in getting the most up to date information should use

search engines for the combinations of “aliens” with “drunk

driving,” or “murder,” or “health care,” etc. to

get latest possible information.

About the Author: John Armor has filed 18 briefs

in the U.S. Supreme Court, and has been of legal counsel to the American Civil

Rights Union since 1998.