Torn by Immigration, United by Major League Baseball Manager

Hazleton has been known to have immigration tensions. The city was the first in the country to pass a tough law against undocumented immigration and the region has been rocked by immigration-related violence. In one instance, for example, an uproar ensued when two undocumented immigrants shot a city resident in the face.

Joe Maddon, the manager of the Patriot-News Tampa Bay Rays, hopes to change that. He has launched the Hazleton Integration Project (HIP) and initiated efforts to bring together different cultures in the city. One recent event organized by the group, for example, saw different businesses meet in a mixer to network. It was one of the few times in the past ten years that business owners from different backgrounds met together.

Maddon feels that the Hispanic residents in the area are part of the region’s future and in many cases have established businesses that help the economy. His initial vision included creating a community center that would allow people from different backgrounds to meet together. Now, his vision includes more projects to help integration and cooperation. Others have praised Maddon’s efforts to raise money for the community center and to foster better community relations. The fact that the man is respected in the community is a native born resident of the city helps him accomplish what has been such a long time coming.

Maddon says that a few years ago real estate prices were low and storefronts were closed as residents moved on. He says that the thousands of Hispanic residents that have moved into the community may be the best chance the city has at prosperity and a bright future. He says that cooperation is an important part of ensuring that that happens.

A court order has already struck down the city’s legislation against undocumented immigration. This summer, however, the case is before a federal court. Experts believe that the city will at least win part of its appeal, which will make strong community relations between different ethnicities and residents even more important.

Hazleton’s Illegal Immigration Relief Act, as it is known, was passed in 2006. The law prevented landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants and required employers to verify immigration status of employees. The law was the first of its kind and drew national attention. In 2007, the law was struck down after a federal judge claimed the law pre-empted federal legislation and was therefore unconstitutional. In 2011, the US Supreme Court set a precedent by striking down a similar Arizona law. The Hazleton law will be placed before a federal judge again in July.