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Election 2018 Profiles: Who is Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA)?

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Lou Barletta is an anti-immigrant extremist who has long made a political name for himself attacking immigrants and intimately entangling himself in the network of anti-immigrant organizations created by white nationalist John Tanton. Barletta is currently the U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 11th district and the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.

Barletta first gained the national spotlight in 2006 for an anti-immigrant law he ushered in as mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania — with the assistance of Kris Kobach. Their law was quickly overturned by the courts and left his small city with millions in legal fees. Refusing to learn from that mistake, he has since continued to stake out the most extreme anti-immigrant positions and cavort with hate groups.

Senate Race

Barletta has made attacks on immigrants central to his campaign for Senate, echoing the divide and distract strategy that has become the Trump/GOP 2018 script. Barletta has made attacking safe-city legislation a centerpiece of his campaign and has called it “an American nightmare”; he sent out a mailer that read “America is at war” and has described current immigration laws as encouraging murder and terrorism.

Barletta is considered to be one of the members of Congress most loyal to Trump and has even defended the Trump Administration’s cruel and failed family separation policy. In response, Trump has been a full-throated campaigner for Barletta against Democrat Bob Casey, calling Barletta a “star”.

Barletta’s attacks on immigrants are likely to backfire on him. Polling by Latino Decisions has found that voters are tired of divisiveness and overwhelmingly support themes of unity and inclusion, and many Pennsylvania voters have soured on their 2016 support for Trump. As support for immigration has continued to increase, scapegoating immigrants has frequently been a losing strategy in general elections. Pennsylvania saw an example of this in March, when Democrat Conor Lamb won a special election House seat after Republicans tried to attack him by demonizing immigrants.

House of Representatives

Barletta spent most of his time during his four terms in Congress attacking immigrants. He, along with his anti-immigrant colleagues, pioneered many of the attacks that have become the hallmark of the Trump Administration. Here are a number of the anti-immigrant laws Barletta was a part of:

  • In 2011, Barletta tried to pass a bill defunding safe cities, an attempt Attorney General Jeff Sessions would pick up, though neither effort has been successful.
  • In 2014, Barletta championed a bill to defund and end DACA for Dreamers.
  • In 2017, Barletta introduced legislation that would remove the ability for Dreamers to receive work permits.
  • During the current Congressional session, Barletta co-sponsored a House bill that would undermine the 14th Amendment to the Constitution that guarantees citizenship for everyone born in the U.S.
  • In 2017, Barletta co-sponsored a bill that would have created a new specialty tax to fund the building of Trump’s border wall — an idea that the World Bank condemned as a “bad idea.”
  • In June of 2018, as the House considered two anti-immigrant bills, Barletta supported the more extreme of the two.

Mayor of Hazleton

Barletta was the Mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, from 1999 to 2010. In 2006, Barletta teamed up with Kris Kobach, who was working for the white nationalist John Tanton’s network through the hate group FAIR, to create an anti-immigrant ordinance preventing undocumented immigrants from renting or working in the city. The ordinance was one of the first of its kind, and once Barletta helped pass it, similar efforts spread to other small cities throughout the country. He championed the law on a vow that he would make Hazleton “one of the toughest places in the United States” for undocumented immigrants.

Barletta’s tough talk and immigrant scapegoating was not supported by the facts on the ground. The ACLU, which brought the legal case against the law, found that from 2000 to 2006, only two or three of the town’s 428 violent crimes were committed by immigrants. Hazleton’s own Chief of Police said the assertion that recent immigrants brought crime to Hazleton was false. Studies have shown that immigrants commit crimes at a much lower rate than native-born Americans.

Barletta’s anti-immigrant law was quickly overturned by a federal court, which found that the law violated the due process rights of employers, landlords, and undocumented immigrants. The failed law cost the town of about 24,000 people $1.4 million in legal expenses.

But Barletta, rather than owning up for his costly mistake, failed up over the next several years. He used the demonization of immigrants to win a seat in Congress, then continued to fan the flames from there. In 2007, as a bipartisan immigration bill made its way through the Senate, Barletta held a rally were he falsely claimed the bill would reward “murders, rapists, thieves, and terrorists.”

Barletta and John Tanton’s network of anti-immigrant organizations

Besides the legislation Barletta crafted with the help of white nationalist John Tanton’s network, Barletta has entangled himself in Tanton’s hate groups in other ways.

The John Tanton network is a group of anti-immigrant organizations founded by the extreme white nationalist John Tanton, who believed in eugenics and white supremacy. The three main anti-immigrant organizations he founded are NumbersUSA, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed both of the latter as hate groups.

Some of Barletta’s affiliations with these groups are as follows:

  • Barletta continues to sit on FAIR’s Board of Directors.
  • He has repeatedly has appeared on panels with CIS and is a listed as an author on their website.
  • I rely on NumbersUSA whenever there’s an immigration-related bill in the House,” Barletta told MSNBC in 2012. Barletta has an A+ Congressional report card rating with NumbersUSA.
  • In 2011, Barletta was a feature speaker at the annual event of the Social Contract Press, Tanton’s publishing company that features white nationalists and Holocaust deniers.
  • Barletta has accepted thousands to dollars from the US Immigration Reform PAC, which is run by Tanton’s wife.

Barletta’s other anti-immigrant allies

  • Upon arriving in Congress, Barletta immediately joined the Immigration Reform Caucus, the extreme anti-immigrant caucus founded by anti-immigrant former congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO).  
  • In 2009, Barletta spoke at The American Cause, Pat Buchanan’s anti-immigrant organization that hires and gives space to white nationalists.
  • In 2008, the PAC of the now defunct Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a vigilante border-patrol group, gave Barletta over $10,000.
  • In 2011, Barletta shared the stage with fellow anti-immigrant congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and others for a panel titled, “How to save White America.”