Starting a decade ago, a group of small U.S. cities passed laws to block undocumented immigrants from living within their borders. They were a collection of mostly white exurbs and faded manufacturing towns whose populations suddenly were transforming. More Latinos were arriving in search of jobs, and the towns’ leaders complained of burdened schools and higher crime. In this northeastern Pennsylvania city of Hazleton, then-Mayor Lou Barletta said he would do what he could to restore “law and order” and take back his city. It was time, Barletta said, for a “war on the illegals,” reports the Washington Post
While that sentiment is shared among some advisers to President Trump, the experiences of these towns show how measures targeting undocumented immigrants can leave lasting and bitter racial divisions while doing little to address the underlying forces that often determine where newcomers settle. The laws in most cases aimed to make it illegal for landlords to rent to undocumented immigrants and threatened fines for employers who hired them. Among the six most high-profile towns that tried to pass such laws, all have been foiled by court rulings, settlements, or challenges with enforcement. Several have been ordered to pay the legal fees for the civil rights groups that brought suits. In five of the six towns, the Latino population — legal or illegal — has continued to grow, attracted by a continued rise in low-paying jobs. The local efforts were championed by two men who are now Trump advisers. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who counseled most of the cities in their legal challenges, consulted with Trump during his campaign about issues including a border wall with Mexico. Barletta is now a U.S. House member and was part of Trump’s transition team.