Hazelton, PA - Ground Zero on the Immigration Laws?
Latinos have helped Hazleton come back. Now, the Poconos city is targeting illegal aliens.
By Michael Vitez
Inquirer Staff Writer
HAZLETON, Pa. - Mayor Lou Barletta agrees that as many as 10,000 newly arrived Latinos have invigorated this old coal town high in the Poconos, yet he pinched a national nerve and divided his own city this week by declaring war on illegal immigrants.
Barletta, 50, contends that illegal immigrants are a blight - responsible for a rise in crime, including a murder last month - and a drain on city services they don't pay for.
"I've had enough," he said.
Barletta proposed the Illegal Immigration Relief Act - an ordinance supported by a majority of the City Council. It would fine and penalize businesses that hire illegal immigrants and landlords who rent to them.
The ordinance also proposes making English the official language of Hazleton, removing Spanish from all documents.
"Why are we so afraid to say in America the one common language we speak is English?" asked the mayor. He says translators would be available to help complete forms in English.
Hazleton, once a dying coal town, is changing dramatically.
The population in 2000 was 23,257, according to the U.S. Census, and projected to decline to 22,120 by 2005. But city officials estimate it is now 32,000, and as many as 30 percent of the residents are Latino.
Hazleton is within two hours of New York and Philadelphia, just minutes from Interstates 80 and 81 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The city is ringed by four industrial parks, which include two big meatpacking plants.
Real estate prices have nearly tripled in recent years, according to the Chamber of Commerce. Latinos have opened an estimated 70 small markets, restaurants and business.
"This was a ghost town," she added. "Downtown was abandoned. Latinos have revived it."
The mayor, a Republican, agrees "the Latino community has been good for Hazleton. All legal immigrants are welcome here." He says legal Latinos will benefit from this ordinance as much as lifelong residents.
"I can't spend taxpayer money chasing down people who don't belong in this country," he said.
The TrekMedic agrees:
There is NOTHING wrong with Latinos coming to the US to "live the American Dream" as many of our forefathers did a century ago. But the difference here is simple: come to the US by legal means and enjoy the fruits of your labors and the freedom of our republic. Don't be a leech and suck this country dry by sneaking in through the back door!