Hazleton’s Motives: Justified or Panic?

Recent BU graduate, Jamie Longazel ’05, presented a lecture entitled, “Drugs, Gangs, and ‘Illegals’: The Construction of an Immigration Problem in the Local News” on Thursday, April 2 in McCormick Center. His speech was the first of BU’s Immigration Matters Forum.

Longazel is now a doctoral student at the University of Delaware and his discussion was led by current research he is doing about the Illegal Immigration Relief Act (IIRA) that was proposed during the summer of 2006 in Hazleton, Pa.

Mayor Lou Barletta has vowed to make Hazleton the “toughest place on illegal immigrants in the country.” The IIRA became the leading step towards regulating immigration in the nation, approximately 200 towns, cities, and states across the U.S. attempt to duplicate the ordinance, according to Longazel’s research.

The IIRA would discourage immigrants from coming to Hazleton and was deemed unconstitutional. Barletta stated estimates that about half of the 10,000 Hispanics who lived in Hazleton during the time the IIRA was passed have since left the city.

Some of the issues the ordinance tried to correct involved prohibiting illegal immigrants from earning wages and making English the official language of Hazleton. Longazel stated if the IIRA were to end up in the Supreme Court the ordinance would most likely be overturned.

In his speech, Longazel compared two recent homicides that occurred in Hazleton that he believes played a large part in Barletta’s decision to come down hard on undocumented immigrants in the area.

Prior to his analysis of the murders, Longazel explained the influence of big city crime and how the national media portrays the news. Police forces and judicial rulings are becoming tougher on crime, as society moves towards a more “law and order” approach.

All of these factors contribute to the public opinion of how Hazleton sees crime. So the police and the local media of the city instill their citizens with fear, not knowing the truth about immigrants is often being misconstrued. Longazel allowed the audience to choose if the implementation of the IIRA in Hazleton was justified or it was a case of panic.

In the first murder, Longazel explained a man by the name of Julio Calderon was killed by another resident of Hazleton during 2005. One characteristic that the two men had in common that proved to be vital to the topic of immigration was that both were immigrants of Hispanic ethnicity. This homicide accumulated press that was defined by Longazel to be nonjudgmental at first, and then eventually as the story developed, ethnicity was briefly mentioned. The city officials promised everything was in the safe and under control.

While in the second murder that occurred in 2006, a white man and long time resident of Hazleton, Derek Kichline, was killed by two Hispanic men who were undocumented immigrants. Longazel explained a dramatic difference occurred in the local media and city officials’ outlook because Kichline was white and attacked by illegal immigrants.

Longazel said one could infer the small city of Hazleton envisioned everything they saw about drug crimes and murders from the media and connected that with the illegal immigrants. They saw them as the root of their crime problems. As the local news continued to cover the homicide, it became clear that the city was embellishing and creating chaos around the issue. Police security increased and kept a close eye on the city’s Hispanics.

BU senior Misha Litvinov of Hazleton Area High School reflected on his experiences with the city’s efforts to protect its residents. “I saw five SWAT guys with like camo body armor and machine guns at about 7:15 in the morning!” Litvinov described how he thought he was encountering a drug raid, which “freaked” him out on his way to school that day. He also stated the importance of immigrants in the economy and how he thought they adapted well to the city’s culture.

In concluding his talk, Longazel ended with some telling statistics. Barletta said “One third of all recent drug crimes involved illegal immigrants,” while the truth is that only about 4.3% of the illegal aliens were participating in the drug crimes in Hazleton from 2001-2006. Also from the same time period, only 21 of the total 8,571 crimes in the city were committed by illegal immigrants, which is just 0.25%.

On a national level, a research from 2008 by Professor Sampson of Harvard University found that first generation immigrants are 45% less likely to commit violence than third generation Americans.

Longazel put emphasis on a concept that helps to explain why immigration is now a significant issue; “A social problem doesn’t become one until it’s declared one.” Whether or not society made the right decision to target immigrants, they are now a major social problem.

Image provided by:  Digger’s Realm

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