One of Congress’ most vocal opponents of immigration, Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., endorsed Donald Trump today in an interview with the Washington Post, hailing the billionaire mogul for turning the GOP into “the party of America first.”
“Donald Trump’s voice is resonating with average Americans who feel their voice has been lost by their party,” Barletta said in a phone interview. “I believe this will become a new Republican Party, one that we should embrace. We should be the party of working men and women, the party of America first.”
“He caught my attention immediately when he highlighted illegal immigration and the open Southern border,” Barletta said. “The fact that he didn’t back down, well, he was criticized the same way I was as mayor. It was reminiscent of what I went through.”
“I’ve been called names, a racist and a bigot,” he added. “I fought my case all the way to the Supreme Court. Donald Trump will fight his case all the way to the White House.”
Barletta became an icon of the Nativist movement when he was serving as the mayor of Hazeltown, Pennsylvania, where he made a name for himself by targeting immigrant families. As we reported back in 2010:
Barletta rose to national prominence as the mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, a small working class city that in 2006 enacted some of the most draconian anti-immigrant measures in the country. Hazleton’s law put tough penalties on individuals and businesses who knowingly or unknowingly did business with undocumented immigrants—it revoked for five years the business license of any business caught employing an undocumented immigrant, and slapped landlords caught renting to undocumented immigrants with a $1,000-a-day fine. The law also declared English the official language of Hazleton, and prohibited city officials from translating documents without permission.
When the law passed, Barletta told the Washington Post, “I will get rid of the illegal people. It’s this simple: They must leave.” On the day the city passed the measure, Barletta wore a bulletproof vest to illustrate his concern over crimes he said were being committed by undocumented immigrants. Statistics , however, showed that undocumented immigrants were hardly responsible for a crime wave in Hazelton: the city’s data showed that of 8,575 felonies committed in the city between 2000 and 2007, 20 had been linked to undocumented immigrants. Later, forced to admit that he had no proof of an illegal immigrant-caused crime wave, or proof that illegal immigrants were crowding Hazleton’s schools and hospitals, or even any idea how many illegal immigrants were in Hazelton, Barletta responded , “The people in my city don’t need numbers.”
While the courts ultimately struck down Barletta’s anti-immigrant policies and ordered the city to pay the legal fees of its opponents, the mayor’s anti-immigrant efforts helped to energize his successful bid for Congress and turned him into a favorite of groups like the far-right Federation for American Immigration Reform, which named Barletta to its National Board of Advisors.
Barletta’s ties with FAIR, a group with close ties to the white nationalist movement, make him a perfect fit for Trump, the white nationalists’ candidate of choice.
Indeed, Barletta once addressed a conference on the need for the GOP to give up on its efforts to appeal to Latino voters and instead increase its support from whites with an anti-immigrant campaign message, a strategy used by both Barletta and Trump.
Although Barletta claimed to be defending “the legal taxpayer of any race,” he admitted that he found inspiration for the law from the website of self-described “proud nationalist” Jim Turner, who pushed a similar measure in San Bernardino, California to prevent the state from becoming, as he put it, a “Third World Cesspool.”
As copy-cat laws started to pop up in towns around the country, Barletta became a hero to anti-immigrant and nativist groups. When he ran for Congress in 2008, Barletta’s campaign received $10,920 from the Minuteman PAC, the political spending arm of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a vigilante border-patrol group that the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “nativist extremist.” It was the largest donation the Minuteman PAC made to a candidate that year.
In 2009, Barletta drew fire for speaking at a conference hosted by The American Cause, a group that had earlier that year released a report urging the Republican Party to not “pander to pro-amnesty Hispanics and swing voters,” and instead to put anti-immigrant policies at the forefront of the party’s strategy. The report was authored by several anti-immigrant advocates, many who had clear records of dabbling in white supremacy. The executive director of the group, and main author of the report, had even been charged with a hate crime against an African American woman. The immigrants’ rights group America’s Voice described the 2009 conference as “a forum for white nationalists to forge ties with ‘mainstream’ media commentators and conservative leaders.”