HAZLETON, Pa. — This quiet yet tough former coal-mining community, population 31,000, is now in the national spotlight, after the mayor and city council tentatively approved a crackdown on illegal immigration like no other city has done before.
"We welcome immigration, legal immigrants to the city," says Mayor Louis Barletta. "But illegal immigrants, I want them out."
To force them out, the mayor wants to:
- Shut down businesses that hire illegal immigrants.
- Impose $1,000 fines on landlords who rent to them.
- Make English the city's official language.
Why here, and why now?
Attracted to the city by affordable housing and jobs, Hazleton's Hispanic population has soared from 5 percent to 30 percent in just six years. Violent crime involving illegal immigrants has also increased.
"When people move into a community and start destroying small-town America, I am not going to sit back and allow that to happen," says Barletta. "Not while I am the mayor of this city."
Although the people of Hazleton won't get to vote on the mayor's proposal, there are lots of opinions about it. In fact, it's the talk of the town.
At the Beltway Diner, it's not just the coffee that's steaming. Many are feeling overwhelmed and support what their mayor is trying to do.
"Why do they have to be here?" asks one patron.
"We feel like a minority, you know. And it's a shame," says another.
Down the street where there are many Hispanic businesses, emotions are just as intense against the plan.
"It is not fair for the citizens of Hazleton," says Dr. Agapito Lopez with the Hazleton Area Latino Association. "It is not fair for Latinos."
"There's a lot of illegal people here that are working, and they are very honest," adds local businessman Humberto Hernandez.
One small city — struggling with a national issue — where welcome signs are still out, just not for everyone.
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