10.11.2007

Notre Dame Forum on Immigration: Barletta is still wrong







I just watched the full 110 minute forum on immigration sponsored by the University of Notre Dame. Finally, a constructive discussion of this most important yet contentious national issue.

Moderated by PBS's Rey Suarez, the panel included Senator Mel Martinez, Cardinal Michael Mahony of Los Angeles, Arizona Governor Janet A. Napolitano and Hazelton, PA mayor, Louis J. Barletta. While framed by the imperatives of Catholic social justice teachings, it was not a one sided open-borders forum. Barletta and three white male students from the audience represented the anti-immigrant side, while really only the Cardinal argued a strong pro-undocumented immigrant line. Martinez and Napolitano represented the more nuanced middle ground.

I highly recommend watching the forum. Why? Because the immigration issue is not going away soon, and given what has transpired thus far in the debate, it'll take a much better educated citizenry before sensible solutions will be politically doable.

I did, however, find it interesting watching and listening to Barletta who tried very hard to sound reasonable and even compassionate. But while he struck an earnest and even soft tone, his tactic was the same: Blame "illegals" for every horrific crime that's occurred in Hazelton, while obscuring his ineffectiveness as a community leader and mayor.

His rap didn't sit well with me, nor apparently with many others, including student Michael McKenna who wrote the following as part of a larger reaction to the forum posted online:

Mayor Barletta painted a fairly pristine picture of life in his town pre-immigrant, while glossing over the fact that Northeastern Pennsylvania has been declining economically for decades, arguably since the decline of coal mining after World War II. To ascribe all subsequent problems to immigrants is a classic case of scapegoating. The crimes he described were indeed horrific, but to suggest that they were committed by undocumented people on a scale disproportionate to their makeup in the population is difficult to believe. Also, a large percentage of the Latinos in Hazleton are Puerto Rican, who are by law U.S. citizens. But by creating a political climate of fear, very likely these U.S. citizens will suffer the social consequences as well.
McKenna makes an important point: Barletta props up his case against undocumented immigrants with distortions and myths about life in Hazelton. And a new study by Zogby International provides the evidence. The study found that on all of the negative conditions attributed to the city's undocumented immigrants--crowded schools, higher unemployment, higher crime levels, etc.,--none are true.

Congratulations to Notre Dame U. for the terrific forum. Now, if only we can get the folks on television, radio and the U.S. Congress to follow suit.