The Anthracite Coal Region of Northeastern Pennsylvania: (in red, clockwise from 9 o’clock, Northumberland County, (Montour County is not included, and is white) then Columbia County, Luzerne County, Lackawanna County, Carbon County, and Schuylkill County.
The community of fashion is largely unaware that a mere two and a quarter hours (111 miles) from midtown Manhattan, one may enter a startlingly different universe, a hardscrabble countryside dotted with working-class towns, falling into ruin after eight decades of decline.
Anthracite coal mining was the Region’s sole economic engine, and cheaper and more convenient forms of energy began challenging hard coal’s position in the American economy as early as 1920. The mineworker’s union unpatriotically broke its pledge to refrain from striking during WWII, and when the miners came back from the war, they found those war-time strikes had very effectively promoted large-scale domestic conversion to heating oil.
Modern environmental regulation in the 1950s was the final straw. By that time, the easy coal in veins close to the surface had been mined out, and it was necessary to dig deep for coal. Available remaining deposits lay below the water table, and the Federal Government would no longer permit collieries simply to pump mine water (thoroughly laden with sulphuric acid) out into local streams and rivers, heading for the Susquehanna and ultimately Chesapeake Bay. Maple Hill, the last colliery operating in my hometown, closed in 1954.
Populations have steadily declined for decades, and the only countervailing trend has been the arrival in the Region in the course of the last two decades of a rapidly increasing new population of Hispanics.
Welfare recipients from New York and Philadelphia first migrated outward in search of a cheaper cost of living (where a welfare income would go farther) to the Lehigh Valley cities of Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton. But prisons, constructed during the prison-building boom of the War on Drugs atop the mountains of the Region as a sop to the regional economy persuaded the same element to cross the Blue Mountain. In some cases, they wanted to be able to visit relatives inside serving time.
The Anthracite Region is a backwater, preserving, as in amber, the culture, values, perspectives, and racial attitudes of a couple of generations back. Only the fact that a very substantial proportion of the local population is over 80 years old significantly diminishes the combustability of the mixture of a newly immigrated Hispanic population (often of less than ideal respectability) with a witches’ brew of belligerent white ethnics.
Even half a century ago, when I was a boy, life in the Region drifted along at its own pace, safely removed from the mainstream currents of news and fashion. But, this time, a part of the Region is at the forefront of national political developments.
The city of Hazleton, in Luzerne County, has responded to a one third growth in population by newly-arrived Hispanics post-2000 with drastic steps aimed at illegal immigrants, taking advantage of recent headlines to fuel radical political action in much the way Berkeley, California would. Even worse, Hazleton’s outbreak of Nativism is attracting press coverage, and inspiring the local Solons of other municipalities to emulation.
The LA Times reports:
Under the new law — which is a modified version of a ballot initiative proposed in San Bernardino — anyone seeking to rent a dwelling in the city will have to apply to the city for a residency license, and submit to an investigation of citizenship status. Landlords found renting to people without licenses will be fined $1,000 a day. Business owners found hiring, renting property to, or providing goods and services to illegal immigrants will lose their business permit for five years on a first offense and 10 years on a second.
There is a certain irony in the descendants of the Central European miners, shot down by nativist sheriff’s deputies in 1897 at Lattimer, keeping the old Luzerne County spirit of hospitality alive, just the same as it has always been. I really wonder who it’s going to be that the grandchildren of today’s Mexicans and Dominicans are going to be trying to kick out a hundred years hence.
Well, Hazleton’s moment as Immigration policy vanguard will soon be over.
A leftwing coalition of rights groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, is suing Hazleton.
There isn’t going to be a contest. I’m not really sure whether the ACLU’s latte budget exceeds the real estate tax revenues of the city of Hazleton, but you get the idea. Financially speaking, Coal Region communities are definite non-starters in modern litigation battles. The mayor of Hazleton will be waxing the Pennsylvania ACLU head guy’s car on Saturdays henceforward, if that’s what he requires. Experiments in Draconian local policy on illegal immigration will need to be conducted in places like California and Arizona, where cities have the wherewithal to fight.