Ask anyone if there is an immigration problem in the and if you receive anything other than a resounding “Yes,” the person you asked has probably been living under a rock.
Presently the United States Congress is trying to address the immigration problem, but they can’t agree on how to go about it. Some want to grant immediate amnesty for the illegal immigrants already in the country, some want to provide a plan for the future amnesty for these illegal immigrants. The United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives have each passed a different version of a bill designed to address the immigration problem, but as no compromise appears to be in sight, neither does a solution to the immigration problem. So the best anyone can say is that Congress is deadlocked. However, this is apparently not good enough for many states and cities across the country who have decided to take matters into their own hands in addressing the immigration problem.
Welcome to Hazleton, Pennsylvania, population approximately 25,000. Given the current climate in the country today, it should come as no surprise that the official census figure overlooks a number of illegal immigrants. Citing a growing problem,particularly with crime, the powers that be decided it was time for a change. Last month, the Hazleton mayor, the grandson of an immigrant, and the local City Council passed the Illegal Immigration Relief Act in an effort to address the immigration problem locally. This act imposes a $1,000 a day fine on any landlord who rents to an illegal immigrant and also revokes the business license, for five years, of any employer who hires an illegal immigrant.
While the law will not take effect until next month, the mayor says that a change is already being seen in the town. He reports that illegal immigrants just are picking up and leaving. There are even reports that immigrant focused businesses such as Mexican restaurants have seen a dip in business as much as 75 percent. Some would call the actions in Hazleton extreme, but proponents say it is working. This action also signals a shift in the focus in the handling of the illegal immigration problem. Traditionally, the immigration problem was centered in states on the border and in the large urban and metropolitan areas. However the problem is now being felt in smaller, more rural American towns. In these smaller towns, cities and other more rural areas, mayors, councilmen, police and other leaders are attacking the immigration problem head-on in an effort to fix what is wrong and what many feel the elected leaders in Washington, DChave largely ignored. However, it seems that sometimes the creative solutions being used by these small towns’ borders on the questionable side of legal. Several groups including the ACLU have sued to block the ordinance in
Hazleton saying that it is overly broad.
But it seems that despite attempts to block the Hazleton Act, other cities are also working locally to address the issue in their towns. For instance, in New Hampshire, several police departments began arresting illegal immigrants for trespassing when they were found in their towns. This didn’t exactly pass muster with the courts in New Hampshire and the policy was discontinued. However, it seems that other cities around the country are considering laws and ordinances similar to
Hazleton’s. These cities say that the citizens have a right to be safe and free and away from the crime caused by illegal immigrants.
Critics of the law say that the problem comes in how the various cities and municipalities are defining the term “illegal immigrant.” It seems that local laws and ordinances sometimes classify illegal immigrants in a fashion that could potentially mix legal and illegal immigrants. As such, opponents say the laws are not constitutional. Other critics of the law, especially
Hazleton’s, say that business, particularly immigrant businesses, will be harmed. However Hazleton’s mayor says that it is not a question of a decline in business, but that the measure is needed as a response to crime problems in the town. Not all illegal immigrants commit crime, but the mayor says crime is up and since few illegal immigrants carry proper identification, it is difficult to investigate or bring alleged criminals to justice. On the other side of this debate is the fact that while crime in the town is up, so is the population, the population of legal citizens. At the end of the day, the mayor says that every legal citizen, regardless of race has a right to be safe.
So the question remains, how is American to deal with the immigration problem? For sometime it seemed that Congress would take care of the problem. However given the polarization present in national politics and the fact that mid-term elections are quickly approaching, it is unlikely that a compromise will soon be reached on a national level. If this is the case, then the solution to the illegal immigration problem rests with the individual states and, as is becoming quite apparent, the smaller cities and municipalities around the country. Clearly the smaller governmental units are showing that they are not afraid and will not hesitate to take action, frequently harsh action to address the immigration problem. However, while this may address the problem locally, the net effect will be a country with many varied “solutions” that may perhaps work in one town will run the risk of not working in another. At the end of the day, if this piecemeal approach to immigration reform continues, we will have a system that is completely void of consistency. Some cities will pass incredibly strict measures, others will pass less restrictive measures, and many will not pass any measure at all. Some areas could end up being free of illegal immigrants and others will see the problem explode as illegal immigrants flock to less restrictive areas.
Once illegal immigrants are in this country, control and regulation is a difficult thing. Virtually any approach that is taken by individual cities and towns will at best treat only a symptom of the problem and not the problem as a whole. While Hazleton’s approach may eventually drive the illegal immigrants out of town, I would wager they will not be returning to their home country, rather, they will follow the course of least resistance and settle in the next nearest place where local law allows them to.
In order to address the illegal immigration problem, our borders must be secure. Control and regulate the flow and the problem can be managed. However Hazleton, Pennsylvania cannot do this, this action needs to start in Congress. Until Congress addresses this situation, there will always be an illegal immigration problem in our country.