Chain Migration Turned This Small Penn. Town of 25,000 Upside Down


With the sudden interest of the national media in the families-separated-at-border storyline, the American immigration narrative is currently wound up in what’s happening to children caught crossing illegally with their families on the southern border.

But a look at a town in northeastern Pennsylvania, where immigrant families staying together have completely overhauled the population and atmosphere might have more lessons for country in the long term.

And they don’t paint the rosy picture immigration activists are trying to sell the American public.

During the 2016 campaign, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and surrounding Luzerne County were occasionally in the national news because of the power of immigration as an issue. In October, The New York Times analyzed the area under the headline: “In a City Built by Immigrants, Immigration Is the Defining Issue.”

After Donald Trump’s unlikely victory in November, Newsweek published a December piece headlined, “Why did Donald Trump win? Just Visit Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.”

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The premise still holds.

A lengthy piece published last week by the City Journal, a quarterly magazine of the conservative Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, is headlined “Chain Migration Comes to Hazleton.”

It describes how in less than 20 years – barely the space of a generation – a town with a population of 25,000 has “been radically transformed since the early 2000s by secondary chain migration, principally driven by Dominicans — immigrants, both legal and illegal, as well as second- and third-generation citizens arriving from the New York metropolitan area.”

The numbers tell the story:

Is there a lesson for the rest of the country in this story?

  In 2000, Hispanics made up less than 5 percent of Hazleton’s population; they now account for more than 50 percent. Such rapid and dramatic demographic shifts are rare in U.S. cities. For Hazleton, the consequences have been profound, and the city is struggling to cope.”

That might be something of an understatement.

The changing demographics have changed the physical appearance of the Luzerne County town, which was incorporated as a borough in 1857 and became a city in 1891.

City Journal reported:

  Vinyl banners with loud graphics soon came to dominate the facades of sober nineteenth-century retail buildings. Pentecostal and evangelical congregations now fill former Catholic and Protestant churches. Blocks of duplex homes, uniformly encased with aluminum siding, crowd with families living in Section 8 housing or in subdivided rental units.

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The public school system has been radically altered:

  In 2007, the district was 28 percent Hispanic and 69 percent non-Hispanic white. As of 2014, the district was 45 percent Hispanic and 51 percent non-Hispanic white… But Hazleton’s budget can’t keep pace with all the new arrivals, many of whom need special services. A district that had need for only one ESL teacher in the 1990s, for example, now has 2,298 English-language learners, nearly 20 percent of its student body; more than half the student body today live in low-income households. By 2017, the school district—encompassing over 250 square miles of southern Luzerne County, northern Schuylkill County, and western Carbon County—faced a $6 million deficit, in part driven by the demographic change.

And then there’s crime. As the City Journal reported, the town’s location near the intersection of Interstates 80 and 81 makes it an “ideal location” for cocaine and heroin operations run by drug rings dominated by immigrants from the Dominican Republic or their families.

When the town eventually tried to take action, it ended up on the losing end of a court case that went all the way to the Supreme Court (and also made Hazleton a national headline name for a time).

As the City Journal reported:

  For many Hazletonians, the city reached a grim tipping point in 2006, when two illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic were charged with murdering a 29-year-old father of three. The killing shocked the community. Hazleton’s then-mayor, Lou Barletta, responded by introducing an ordinance, soon passed by the city council: the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, which fined and penalized employers and landlords for hiring and renting to illegal immigrants. The ACLU challenged the act, and the fight went to the Supreme Court. In 2014, the Court declined to review two federal appellate decisions that struck down the measure. The following year, a U.S. district court judge ruled that Hazleton had to pay $1.4 million to the attorneys who had sued the city over the act. The judge’s order was devastating for a cash-strapped city struggling to provide adequate services to its growing Hispanic population.

None of that is good news for the Democrat Party, or activists on the side of unchecked immigration.

And there’s a reason Donald Trump won Luzerne County with 77 percent of the vote, according to the City Journal.

However, Hazleton shouldn’t be seen as an example of why immigration should be opposed as a rule. One thing the liberals are right about is that immigrants have always played a key part of building the United States.

What Hazleton does show is the danger of unchecked immigration, based solely or even largely on the “chain” of relations to those immigrants who are accepted into the country.

America should be a nation that welcomes immigrants who are willing to assimilate into the country as a whole, not bunker themselves in ethnic enclaves for generations.

While liberals try to stage a tear-jerking soap opera about separating families in the Southwest part of the country, it might behoove the rest of us to look at a town in northeastern Pennsylvania for a bit, like Fox News host Tucker Carlson did in March.

Unchecked, chain immigration is not always a pretty picture.

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Joe has spent more than 30 years as a reporter, copy editor and metro desk editor in newsrooms in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Florida. He's been with Liftable Media since 2015.
Joe has spent more than 30 years as a reporter, copy editor and metro editor in newsrooms in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Florida. He's been with Liftable Media since 2015. Largely a product of Catholic schools, who discovered Ayn Rand in college, Joe is a lifelong newspaperman who learned enough about the trade to be skeptical of every word ever written. He was also lucky enough to have a job that didn't need a printing press to do it.