A Feb. 2 immigration article on the Kansas City Star website provided an interesting contrast for Pennsylvania readers.
The article detailed the detainment of Bangladeshi undocumented immigrant Syed Ahmed Jamal, who has lived in the U.S. for 30 years, has no criminal record, and teaches at Kansas City-area universities. Jamal overstayed his visa and was allowed to stay in the country on a supervised basis since 2011. Regardless, he was detained by U.S. immigration officials and faces possible deportation.
But that complex story ran in contrast to an ad placed on top of the article’s page by Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate and current U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazleton). Barletta’s message was simple: “We must stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the country.”
This is just one tactic by the Barletta campaign to showcase the candidate’s opposition to immigration. Pittsburgh City Paper discovered the ad on the Kansas City Star website, but also found Barletta’s online ads stating, “we must secure the border” next to a January CP story about a Pittsburgh undocumented Mexican immigrant. Throughout 2018, Barletta has included harsh anti-immigrant messaging in campaign mailers and emails. And last year, a Barletta-linked group that advocates for less immigration, put out an ad against Barletta’s senate-race opponent, U.S Sen. Bob Casey (D-Scranton), demanding Casey support funding for a border wall.
These tactics have led Democrats and immigration proponents to claim Barletta is attempting to gain support through xenophobia and fear-mongering. The Barletta campaign says the candidate is pro-immigrant, but that immigrants should enter “through the proper legal channels.” Either way, University of Pittsburgh political science professor Jerry Shuster thinks Barletta’s campaign strategy is too focused on a narrow group of voters and could backfire. Barletta has espoused hard-line immigration stances for more than a decade, and for that reason, Shuster expects more anti-immigrant rhetoric as Pennsylvania’s 2018 U.S. Senate race heats up. Barletta has a few Republican challengers for the upcoming May primary election, including Pennsylvania state Rep. Jim Christiana (R-Beaver) and national-security expert Cynthia Ayers.
In 2006, Barletta initially gained notoriety, when as mayor of Hazleton, a former coaltown in Luzerne County, he passed immigration laws. He signed laws instituting fines on Hazleton landlords who knowingly rented to undocumented immigrants; denied permits to businesses that hired undocumented immigrants; and made English the town’s official language. This was in response to an influx of Latino immigrants into Hazleton, drawn there by the area’s new meat-packing plants.
Barletta boasts about his personal history in a campaign mailer he sent to voters in February, writing: “I took a stand on illegal immigration — long before it was a popular issue — and I didn’t back down.” This mailer also declared “America is at war” with “violent criminal aliens.”
Jamie Longazel is a Hazleton native and activist with Anthracite Unite, a Hazleton-area pro-immigrant and social-justice collective. He wrote a book on the immigrant laws passed under Barletta.