New York Times reporter Trip Gabriel visited the "white, ethnic...stronghold" of Hazleton, Pennsylvania on Monday and cast it as reactionary under the headline "New Attitude on Immigration Skips an Old Coal Town."
Before Arizona’s crackdown on illegal immigrants, before “self-deportation” became the Republican presidential platform in 2012, there was Hazleton.
This working-class city in the Poconos passed the country’s first law aimed at making life so difficult for illegal immigrants that they would pack up and leave.
Hazleton has faded from the national attention it drew with its Illegal Immigration Relief Act in 2006. But as Republicans in Congress advance plans to provide a path to citizenship for the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, the city presents a test case of whether the party risks leaving behind a critical part of its core constituency: white working-class voters for whom illegal immigration stirs visceral reactions.
There is no acknowledgment that young black men would also bear the brunt of increased competition from new immigrants at the entry end of the job market.
Even a photo caption put Hazleton on the defensive: "Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi and others insist that Hazleton’s reputation as one of the nation’s toughest cities toward illegal immigrants is undeserved."
A city of 25,000 on a mountain plateau, a former center of coal and rail, Hazleton evokes the white, ethnic Pennsylvania stronghold in “The Deer Hunter,” the 1978 Robert De Niro movie. Local officials and many non-Hispanic residents said last week that they did not accept the reasoning of Republican leaders in Washington, including some 2016 presidential hopefuls, that giving legal status to illegal immigrants was overdue and a political imperative if Republicans are to win more Hispanic voters.
“I’m totally against it,” said Jim Murphy, a lifelong resident who was sharing a pitcher of beer with a friend at Senape’s Tavern Pitza, under a McCain-Palin bumper sticker from 2008. “Illegal is illegal. Chase them all out. They don’t belong here.”
They are attracted by jobs at warehouses and at a meatpacking plant, by good schools and cheap housing, Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi said. “We really enjoy having the Hispanic community come here and revitalize a portion of our town.”
He and others insisted that the city is welcoming to legal immigrants and has an undeserved reputation. Still, he contrasted illegal immigrants with older waves of European newcomers in terms many Hispanics find insensitive.
“My parents were taught, you’re here to be Americans, speak English,” he said. “If you come over the fence, do you want to be an American, or do you just want to be in the country?”
Hispanic residents said they felt their entire population was stigmatized by the crackdown on illegal immigrants. Felix Perez, a Walmart employee with two daughters, 2 and 9, recalled a time he hesitated at the wheel of his car, unsure which way to turn, and the non-Hispanic driver behind him got out with a gun in his hand. “He saw my face, he knew I was Spanish,” Mr. Perez said. “They believe we are all the same because we look the same.”