On Election Night 2016, I was sitting on a set at CNN in Washington when the results from Luzerne County arrived on my iPad like a missile from the industrial heartland. Barack Obama had carried the working class-county twice, albeit narrowly. Now Donald Trump had trounced Hillary Clinton in Luzerne by nearly 20 points. His victory there, which helped him seal the Keystone State and its 20 electors, was an unmistakable signal of the seismic change that was at hand.
Trump's "America First" screeds and assault on the status quo played well in areas such as this, where the factory and mining jobs that were a staple of the middle class for generations had vanished over recent decades -- a loss exacerbated by the crash of 2008. The bellicose billionaire's tough talk on trade was welcome in Luzerne County. So, too, were his rants against undocumented immigrants.
Nearly a decade before Trump descended the escalator and announced his fateful campaign with a fusillade of ugly epithets against Mexican immigrants, Hazleton had become a focus of the national debate over immigration and undocumented workers.
But, today, another, more hopeful story is being written in Hazleton, where a pioneering effort is underway to welcome new immigrants, spurred by a revered local sports celebrity committed to rebuilding the frayed bonds of community.
Anxiety and the rise of Lou Barletta
Alarmed by the growing number of immigrants drawn to town by the low-wage warehouse distribution center jobs that were sprouting up in the area, Hazleton's then-mayor, Lou Barletta, pushed through an ordinance
in 2006 prohibiting landlords from renting to undocumented immigrants, fining the employers who hired them and making English the official language of the town.
The law became the object of a pitched legal battle and, ultimately, was thrown out by the courts -- although the failed crusade, and a friendly remap, helped propel Barletta to a seat in Congress in the 2010 election. (A staunch Trump ally, he's vying to unseat Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, this fall.)
Meanwhile, Hazleton's immigrant population co