Last year the little town of Hazelton, PA passed the strictest immigration law in the land that would fine landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants. It would deny business permits to companies that employ them and also require residents to register with the city to prove their citizenship. The town was described as the most racist in the United States.
Hazelton was an old mining town that was slowly dying. The young folks were moving out and the future looked bleak for the future of this town, that was, until immigrants started moving in. The immigrant community started to revive the town with added commerce and vitality. But for the older generation, they saw this new community as changing their way of life and they feared a loss of power. In response, the Hazelton City Council passed the Illegal Immigration Relief Act.
This week the Hazelton ordinance, which has been barred from enforcement, went to court to determine its constitutionality, and for better or worse, the outcome of this trial will either be seen as a shinning light for anti-immigrant movements or it will go down as nothing more than a xenophobic reaction to the growth of the immigrant community.
The town leadership passed this ordinance citing the need to take action on the immigration issue because they felt that the federal government had failed them in regards to the illegal immigration problem. They cited a rise in crime and a drain on public services as the main culprits of the influx of immigrants. At the time of the passage of this ordinance, the Hazelton City Council and mayor had no facts to back up their assertion but relied on perception. In fact, there was no truth in that crime had risen.
In their opening statements the lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union claimed that the town’s laws discriminated against Latino residents no matter their legal status and that the ordinances conflicted with the federal government’s authority to regulate immigration.
While we can argue the legal points and counter the council’s arguments about the rise in crime and drain on public services, every report or study that has been done indicates that immigrant incarceration rates are lower than native born rates. Immigrants raise the wages of native workers, and less than one percent of Medicaid spending went to health care for illegal immigrants. As we have often said in the editorial pages of this paper, the underlining issue behind the attacks is the inhert racism of white Americans, the Hispanic attacks have no basis in fact!
Locally, we see this issue being played out in Escondido, a city that followed the example of Hazelton and tried to write their own ordinance to penalize landlords for renting to immigrants and failed. Recently, a nearly identical ordinance as Hazelton’s in a St. Louis, Missouri suburb was ruled in violation of state law. In the meantime, dozens of other communities across the nation are trying to enact similar laws and they will be watching this trial to determine their fate.
Immigration is a complex multi-national issue that has to be addressed at the federal level and cannot be solved on a city by city basis. What we see with cities such as Hazelton and Escondido are mean spirited, ethnocentric laws targeting only one segment of the community that is largely void of a political voice. Instead of trying to find ways to establish race based limits on immigration, these cities should find ways to take advantage of this growing population and incorporate them into becoming a productive part of society.