Steve Chapman

In Hazleton, as elsewhere, the main reason Latino foreigners come is to work and stay out of trouble. In fact, those qualities are the same ones that get them accused of stealing jobs. Even those immigrants who work off the books contribute to the economic health of local businesses by buying goods and services. Hazleton has seen an expansion of its tax base.

So it's too simple to blame all the city's newfound troubles on illegal immigrants. But the resistance to this influx can't be ascribed to simple prejudice. It's a response to unwanted changes that create genuine burdens on the town and its citizens.

No one really doubts that the arrival of thousands of illegals put a heavier load on emergency rooms and public schools. (The mayor testified that the budget for teaching English as a second language has risen from $500 to $1.15 million.) If the police chief perceives the presence of gangs that were not there before, he's probably not hallucinating.

The root of the problem is that the units of government that allowed the problem of illegal immigration are not the same ones that pay the price for it. If it's national policy to tolerate illicit entries and overstaying of visas, then it's a national obligation to address the painful side effects. If the bill is going to fall largely on local governments, you can hardly blame local governments for trying to protect themselves.

The critics of this ordinance are right to note that it's the federal government that should enforce immigration laws. But the people of Hazleton are justified in asking: When, exactly, will that happen?

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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