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Pennsylvania Town Passes Illegal Immigration Law

As immigration becomes a key topic during this year's elections, the town of Hazleton, Pa. has passed ordinances to fine businesses and landlords who employ or house illegal immigrants and require city documents be in English.

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  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Blues club owner Jim Christman says he wanted to spark a debate when he posted a sign outside his tavern, "Legals served here."

  • JIM CHRISTMAN, Tavern Owner:

    It was meant to cause some controversy, to get people talking, because any time there's an issue that comes up that's very controversial, the best way to handle it is sit down and talk.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    The issue is illegal immigration. Once concentrated in border states and big cities, the debate has come to smaller communities, places such as Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

    Like many small cities and towns in Pennsylvania, Hazleton suffered economically as coal-mining and manufacturing jobs left the region. Hazleton's population declined for years. But since 2000, the town has seen a surge of new residents, mostly Latino, many undocumented.

    The new residents were attracted by jobs in the town's expanding industrial park and affordable housing. Hazleton's Hispanic population exploded and today comprises almost a third of its 30,000 residents.

    But in recent weeks, many have begun to leave, a response to a new city ordinance, one of the strictest laws in the nation aimed at illegal immigrants. Hazelton's mayor is Republican Lou Barletta, himself a fourth-generation descendant of Italian immigrants. Until recently, he says, he welcomed all the newcomers.

    MAYOR LOU BARLETTA (R), Hazleton: I've embraced that community as they've continued to come, and obviously our neighborhoods were seeing new people moving in, buying homes, renting homes, more people opening up mom-and-pop businesses again, which was exciting for me, as the mayor, to see that.

  • KWAME HOLMAN:

    Local business leader and retired ophthalmologist Agapito Lopez, a native of Puerto Rico, decided to settle in Hazelton a few years ago. He says the Latino community embraced the mayor, as well.

  • DR. AGAPITO LOPEZ, Business Leader:

    He was our friend. He cooperated with us. He even made a playground for us. He made a city within his city for us, you know, nice homes in the middle of downtown. You know, all this was, you know, to welcome the Latinos and the immigrants that were coming into town. And suddenly he changed. And, you know, I was amazed. I was surprised.

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