Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hazelton

I was putzing around the internet this morning when I came across yet another story on Hazleton, the town in northeast Pennsylvania that is taking strong measures against illegal immigrants, as the article states: “…imposes fines on landlords who rent to illegal immigrants and denies business permits to companies that give them jobs. The law empowers the city to investigate written complaints about a person's immigration status, using a federal database.”

If you’re expecting some anti-Hazleton rant from me, think again, because there a lot of sides to this story, none of them good. My hometown is about half an hour south of Hazleton along Route 81, and I grew up thinking of the town as a good-sized city. The reality is it’s a big small town, like so many others in Pennsylvania, many of which are having similar problems with crime, especially drug-related. Easton, Reading, Allentown, Williamsport. Generally the towns, like Hazleton, are located along interstates and serve as nice little drop-off hubs for the drug trade. Granted, you’d have to be a fucking idiot to be hispanic and move to one of these town to deal drugs – you stand out like a sore thumb to the police. But this has surely been happening over the past decade.

I strongly suspect most people involved in the drug trade aren’t illegal aliens. They’re probably young hispanic guys from New York and Philly, and they’re not smart enough to recognize their situation, that they’ve moved to areas that are mostly white working-class, and this alone makes them stand out. If they thought they got a raw deal in New York, I got some bad news, New York City cops seem pretty rational to me as compared to some small-town cops I’ve come up against.

I’m wondering if there are statistics to back up Hazleton’s problems? Because what’s being implied by the mayor of the town does make sense: if you have a large number of illegal immigrants not paying any sort of taxes in a relatively small municipality, that’s going to seriously damage the town’s infrastructure in terms of lost revenue. The town’s hispanic population had grown to one-third – I’m not sure what percentage of that one-third are illegal immigrants.

It should also be noted that the new law in Hazleton is going after employers and landlords who hire/rent to illegal aliens. The real issue here, the real criminals, if you want to be that dramatic, are employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens and pay them under the table, generally much less than they’d legally pay a citizen working for them. Why? A lot of these employers will tell you it’s basic survival, but I’m much more prone to believing it’s pure greed. If they can’t properly pay/take care of their employees and stay solvent, then maybe they shouldn’t be in business. Why pay an American $10 an hour and health benefits to work in your factory when you can hire someone illegally whose willing to work for $7 an hour, cash, with no benefits? Employers like this are lowballing the American worker. I’ve often heard the ruse “illegal immigrants are doing the work that Americans refuse to do” – but that’s bullshit. They’re doing hard work for a lousy wage that’s so low most Americans would be better off on welfare than taking the job.

Who gets hurt by all this? Obviously, hispanic people who legally moved to the town, are gainfully employed and have made their homes there. In a perfect world, everyone would know who they are, but in reality, any hispanic person walking around Hazleton is going to be held suspect, and more than likely receiving residual anger from locals assuming that everyone hispanic is an illegal alien or in the drug trade. Again with statistics, I’d be curious to see how Hazleton’s crime rate has done over the past decade or so. If it’s gone up – you get the impression it must have sky-rocketed – then the mayor has a legitimate gripe, especially if a majority of the criminals are illegal aliens. And I’d say looking at the local police blotter and seeing hispanic names isn’t evidence enough. I suspect if you looked at local police blotters in New York in the 1800s, it would be filled with Irish names – it’s part of the deal that poor people looking for a fresh start are going to bring along some people who aren’t making it, nor have any interest in doing so.

It’s a bit of a mess in Hazleton right now, but at least it’s an honest confrontation about a serious problem in America. I think people living around cities don’t quite grasp how employers hiring illegal workers can damage an economy, because the economy where they live is so relatively enormous that it can easily absorb illegal workers and not skip a beat. And, of course, many people around cities see themselves as being more liberal minded, but after nearly 20 years in New York I can safely say a lot of these people are just as, if not more, rigid and unchangeable in their beliefs than supposed “rednecks” are. If they want to get an earful on this issue, they could easily talk to someone who took years to legally immigrate here and actually become a citizen: a long process requiring a concerted effort, the same way it is for any other country.

I strongly suspect the left will position Hazleton as a bunch of backwards-thinking, racist rednecks. The people of Hazleton really won’t give a shit. I’m sure a lot of them are in exact agreement with the mayor, and I’m sure a lot have some trepidations. A lot of this is pure territoriality. Hazleton has always been predominately white working class, and naturally they’re going to feel threatened when some new ethnicity moves in. This is hardly just a white working-class thing. I’ve seen it go on with Puerto Ricans and Dominicans in New York, once even witnessing a screaming, raging fist fight on a subway train in the Bronx because this young Puerto Rican girl felt slighted by a Dominican kid making fun of her. To which her boyfriend took umbrage. They argued in English, and the gist was “I wish you Dominican scumbags would get out of our neighborhood, you’re ruining it for everybody.”

It goes on in all directions. It’s not enough to look at this issue and see nothing but racism. (I’m perfectly comfortable with people looking at it and seeing this as part of the issue, but surely not the whole issue. And if they’re really that concerned, they could go to Hazleton and referee these thorny confrontations. Which I know is a load of shit, as I’ve seen dozens in my time in New York, and they usually come down to one very stupid, angry person squaring off against another like-minded individual, and both of them losing the thread of their disagreement by descending into racial/ethnic taunting. You’d have more luck separating two squealing Tasmanian devils having a go at each other.)

Do I agree with what’s going on in Hazleton? Put it this way, if I was more privy to the town’s finances, and if there is a legitimate financial concern that illegal immigration is seriously harming the town’s tax base then, yes, I agree with what’s going on. If that’s not the case, then, no, I don’t. Whatever’s going on, it looks like the mayor is drawing a line in the sand, and a lot of hispanic people, legal or not, are leaving town rather than staying there to fight. And I can understand that – Hazleton is not where they're from and not "home" in their minds. Hats off to the hispanic people who stay and make a stand. I know what it’s like to move to an alien environment and make yourself somehow fit in and work there. It aint easy, and you’re going to catch a lot of dumb racial shit, nearly all of it undeserved, along the way. I know, because I’ve done it in NYC neighborhoods a lot of these people have left for places like Hazleton.

(Sidenote: I'm just remembering, in the year after I graduated from college, 1987, I had a very brief job as a weekly newspaper editor back in Pennsylvania for a real shyster who was in the process of tanking his small string of pennysaver publications, this new weekly paper being the last nail in the coffin. But we got one issue out, and I wrote an editorial that concerned pretty much the same issue of illegal immigration, only back then focusing on the brief time I had spent in Venice, CA earlier that year. It's roughly the same story. Nineteen years ago. Go figure.)

1 comment:

angie said...

My hats off to you on this article Bill! You should look into posting this in our local newspaper, or Hazelton, to help most people understand what IS going on in Hazelton. Many do not have a clue!