Friday January 27, 2017

Scholarly Achievement

University of Dayton sociologist Jamie Longazel's recent book about the politics of immigration laws has landed him interviews with The New York Times, BBC News, CNN Money, Univision and, most recently, a front-page story in The Washington Post, among other national and international media outlets.

Now his book, Undocumented Fears: Immigration and the Politics of Divide and Conquer in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, has earned a Scholarly Achievement Award from the North Central Sociological Association. The book was selected from among 16 nominees by a three-member awards committee.

The NCSA will honor Longazel with the award at its annual meeting, March 31-April 1, in Indianapolis. The association will also dedicate an “author meets critic” session to Longazel, who will discuss his book with a panel of four scholars.

“Just having that kind of panel is a great honor, because it is a chance to have four respected people take the time to read what I wrote and share their thoughts about it, and to have an audience think about and engage with it,” he said.

Undocumented Fears is about the passage of the controversial 2006 Illegal Immigration Relief Act in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The local ordinance sought to punish landlords who rented to undocumented immigrants and businesses that employed them. It also made English the city’s official language.

Longazel, a Hazleton native, said the ordinance was passed after the city lost most of its manufacturing jobs. Developers brought in distribution centers, warehouses and a meatpacking plant, whose jobs attracted immigrant workers. Then-Mayor Lou Barletta claimed undocumented immigrants were increasing crime and draining resources, despite no evidence to support those claims.

“I really felt the need to make a case here about why this was a problem, because much of the political rhetoric that was used to justify this ordinance was flat-out untrue,” said Longazel, assistant professor of sociology and a research fellow with the University of Dayton Human Rights Center.

Hazleton’s ordinance had implications for the city’s entire Latino population, regardless of whether they were legal or undocumented immigrants.

“What happens when we start to scapegoat immigrants or start to blame all of our problems on a particular population, and unjustly so, is we stop paying attention to the actual roots of our problems,” Longazel said. “We stop paying attention to what’s actually going on.”

Ultimately, Hazleton’s ordinance was overturned in court and the city agreed to pay nearly $1.4 million for its opponents’ legal costs.

Barletta, who authored the ordinance, is now a U.S. representative for Pennsylvania’s 11th congressional district. He also was part of President Donald Trump’s transition team.

Longazel said there are unmistakable parallels between the Hazleton saga and Trump’s “divide and conquer” presidential campaign.

“He infamously used a lot of untruths, a lot of scare tactics about building walls, and claimed Mexicans are rapists and criminals and those sorts of things,” Longazel said. “That had a lot to do with him garnering support, as well.”

Before and after the election, media outlets that also include The Philadelphia Inquirer, Scotland Herald and Huffington Post have sought Longazel to use Hazleton as a case study to explain the Trump phenomenon.

“It is a deeply local story, but at the same time I think it has really important implications for what is going on nationally at the moment,” he said.

Longazel has established himself as a national expert on immigration politics, particularly as it relates to crime, inequality and racialized politics, said Leslie Picca, chair of the department of sociology, anthropology and social work. His media interviews are estimated to have reached an audience of millions.

“Dr. Longazel’s work is profound, insightful and courageous,” Picca said. “His work is critically important in this climate of anti-Latino racism in immigration policies.”

The NCSA is a regional sociology association covering Eastern Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Western Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ontario, Canada. It is dedicated to furthering the development of sociology as a scientific and scholarly discipline.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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