Congressman Lou Barletta, whose strong stance on illegal immigrants helped propel him into public office, has taken aim at the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for ordering the release from custody of an illegal Mexican immigrant who had been arrested in Beaver Meadows for speeding and driving without a license.
"Obviously I'm very concerned about the situation in Beaver Meadows, and I want to know why this admitted illegal immigrant was released from custody. I spoke with Chief (Michael) Morresi about the incident, and I share his frustration with the way ICE apparently chose to handle this incident," said Barletta.
"I want answers from ICE, and I know my constituents want answers, so I sent a letter to the director of the agency seeking an explanation as to why this man was released."
Morresi stopped Oswaldo Tlalmis-Perez, 30, at 3:30 p.m. last Sunday for doing 56 mph over the posted 35 mph speed limit on Route 93.
"He handed me a Mexican voter registration card and two Access (public welfare benefits) cards," Morresi said. "He admitted to me right away he has been in the country illegally for six years, five of them in New Jersey and one in Hazleton."
The access cards had different names, and Perez also had $3,000 in cash and no job. Perez was also unsure about his own address.
Morresi did a background check on Perez and found he had been arrested for assault in New Jersey, but that the charges had been dropped.
"I contacted Immigration and informed them what I had," he said. Over the next four hours, Morresi was bounced to four different ICE sectors, including Florida, Berks County and Philadelphia.
"I had to contact a translator in Florida," Morresi said.
Ultimately, he was told to let Perez go free.
"The only option I had was to release him and just cite him, so that's what I did," Morresi said. "I wasn't surprised," he said of ICE's directive. "It's not the first time this has happened."
Officials at ICE's Washington D.C. and Philadephia offices did not immediately return telephone calls Friday morning.
Morresi cited Perez for speeding and driving without a license, then dropped Perez off at the Luzerne County line.
"He wanted me to take him to Hazleton, but I wasn't going to do that," Morresi said.
He also cited owner of the car, Edgardo Laureano-Molina, of Emerald Court, Hazleton, for allowing the illegal to operate his vehicle.
Morresi said he's nabbed about 60 illegal immigrants in his small town, just a few miles from Hazleton. The city in recent years has become home to an influx of Hispanic people.
Barletta, who was Hazleton's mayor, based his successful bid for congress on his aggressive actions in dealing with his city's changing demographics.
Barletta on Thursday fired off a letter to ICE Director John Morton on his agency's "refusal to issue a detainer" against Perez.
"Chief Morresi was told ICE would only intervene if the individual did not respond to the citation and if a warrant was issued," Barletta wrote.
"The safety and security of my constituents is my primary concern. During a subsequent conversation with Chief Morresi, he told me that this is the sixth time in recent months that he has apprehended illegal aliens; each time, he said, ICE gave him different responses as to how to handle the detention of an illegal immigrant.
"Please tell me what policy, if any, ICE uses to determine how to detain illegal aliens who have violated the law and are in our country illegally. If the illegal immigrant does not possess a valid U.S. address, how does ICE account for their whereabouts if they refuse to respond to the charges that are filed? Furthermore, if an illegal immigrant is in the country illegally and taking advantage of public benefits, is ICE required to notify the proper governmental agencies?" Barletta wrote.
"Pennsylvania's 11th Congressional district has the highest unemployment in the state. We face a serious problem with illegal aliens who are unlawfully employed in Northeastern Pennsylvania. My constituents are concerned with this problem and want to make sure the federal government is enforcing our nation's immigration laws," he wrote.