Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Immigrants, neighbors, & fellow citizens

In late August I blogged about Hazleton's then proposed laws that were designed to pressure undocumented residents to leave the town ( see Better "dead" than Latino? ). At the time, I predicted that the laws would have a negative effect on all Latinos in the community, and would perhaps drive Hazleton back into its days a dying former mining town.

This article from the Houston Chronicle outlines the changes that the proposed ordinances have had on local businesses, particularly those businesses owned and operated by legal permanent residents (for those readers who are rabidly anti-immigrant, I am referring to the people who have worked their way through the system). And, as I predicted, these laws have changed the nature of the community, so that all Latinos, regardless of their legal status, feel unwelcome. As Elvis Soto (a 27 year-old legal resident who came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic a decade ago) remarked, "Before, it [Hazleton] was a nice place. Now, we have a war against us. I am legal but I feel the pressure also."

The anti-immigrant hostility in Hazleton is directed like a blunt force against every Latino in the community, not just the undocumented. The long-term consequences of this hostility will no doubt damage community relations. Perhaps the families who have settled in Hazleton will move on, leaving it to its former legacy as a dying town.

One thing is for certain, American nativism will have long-term consequences beyond Hazleton. The immigrants who live in the U.S. (legally or not) are part of our national community. They may become citizens themselves, or (like my own Italian grandmother) will be the parents and grandparents of citizens even if they decline the opportunity to naturalize.

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