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Columbia Immigration: New Voters, Old Fears

The Mayor Who Cried 'Whoa'

By Amy Crawford, July 26, 2008

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The Mayor Who Cried 'Whoa'

By Amy Crawford

With voters still angry at the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress, Democrats are poised to pick up a dozen or more House seats this November. But in Northeast Pennsylvania, Republicans may have a chance to oust a senior Democrat. In the state's 11th district, Lou Barletta, the Republican mayor of Hazleton, is challenging 12-term incumbent Rep. Paul Kanjorski. Barletta’s and the Republicans' chances rest on a single issue that has faded from the presidential election, but continues to flare up in towns and suburbs around the country: illegal immigration.

Under normal circumstances, Kanjorski should not have had to worry about this race. Though his House career has not been particularly distinguished, he has won re-election easily in a district that includes the blue-collar Democratic cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. The first time Kanjorski faced Barletta, in 2002, he defeated the mayor by 13 points, and in 2006 he won re-election by 45 points. But in the last two years, Barletta has won a reputation as a crusader against illegal immigration. And as that issue has spread through the congressional district, the Republican has begun to pick up support. One poll, commissioned by the Barletta campaign, even shows the challenger ahead of Kanjorski by five points.

Kanjorski’s troubles go back to what happened recently in Hazleton, a city of 22,000. Until 2001, Hazleton was a faded rust belt town that had been losing population since the coal industry collapsed in the 1950s. But that fall, Cargill opened a meat-packing plant west of town, bringing 700 new jobs to the area. Many of these jobs were filled by immigrants from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, some of whom came via New York City, which had experienced a recession after the 2001 terrorist attacks. “Between 2002 to 2005, there was an explosion of people,” recalls Amilcar Arroyo, the editor of a local