HARRISBURG, Pa. — Inside Lou Barletta’s small, strip-mall office in Harrisburg, Mirna Gonzalez asked a staffer to give the Pennsylvania congressman a message: “We are not going to stop.”
Gonzalez was one of a handful of people who gathered at the representative’s satellite office Wednesday to protest the Trump administration’s intention to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The program, instituted by President Barack Obama, protects 800,000 undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. Almost 6,000 of them live in Pennsylvania.
The scene was repeated at Republican congressmen’s offices across the state during protests spearheaded by#PaResist, a coalition that includes immigrant-rights groups Make the Road Pennsylvania and CASA.
Gonzalez is a community organizer for CASA who’s lived in York, Pa., for six years. She won’t be directly affected by the end of DACA, but she was with many who will be during a bus trip to D.C. yesterday for a protest.
As she put it, DACA will affect “all my children” — the young people who she saw “crying about their future.” She said she was “suffering along with them.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced Tuesday that President Donald Trump plans to end DACA in six months, giving Congress time to come up with a permanent fix. The move was met with quick praise from Pennsylvania’s Republican members of Congress, as well as denouncement from the other side of the aisle. Pennsylvania, led by Democrat Gov. Tom Wolf, is one of 15 states plus D.C. suing the Trump administration over the move.
Of all the Pennsylvania congressmen targeted by protesters Wednesday, Barletta is perhaps the most outspoken about his opposition to undocumented immigrants. As mayor of Hazleton, he spearheaded a law that made English the official language of the eastern Pa. city and provided punishments for employers who hired or landlords who rented housing to undocumented persons. A federal court found the law to be unconstitutional.
“I see illegal immigrants picking up and leaving — some Mexican restaurants say business is off 75 percent,” Barletta told the Washington Post in 2006 after the law was passed. “The message is out there.”
Barletta — the most high-profile Republican to emerge as a challenger to Democrat Sen. Bob Casey — is also listed on the national board of advisers for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which is classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In a statement, Barletta said he respected the rights of the protesters to “express their opinions.”
“The First Amendment is a fundamental Constitutional right and people are free to express their opinions,” Barletta said today in a statement. “They have the right to protest as long as it’s peaceful and as long as it doesn’t disrupt meetings and forums. That’s what makes our country so great. Even if they have an opposing view to mine, they are exercising their right. However, I agree with the President’s decision to put a deadline on DACA and stand up for the forgotten American worker and family.”
Praise and outrage
Indeed, Barletta, a vocal supporter of Trump during the campaign and a member of his transition team, provided full-throated praise for the president’s decision to end DACA.
“When President Obama illegally granted amnesty to hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, he improperly created more competition for American workers and legal immigrants who are already finding it difficult to get work,” Barletta said in a separate statement Tuesday. “American citizens, or people who have come to the United States legally, should not have to suffer from others butting in line after they have broken the law to enter this country. Today, by putting such decisions back in the hands of Congress, President Trump is putting America first and making it clear that no president has the authority to create immigration law.”
In a stark contrast to Barletta, Casey said Trump’s decision is “an insult to America and our values.” Casey, in a statement, called on Congress to pass the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act that would allow Dreamers to become permanent citizens.
Gonzalez, as well as the other protesters, told a member of Barletta’s staff in Harrisburg that they want him to support the DREAM Act. The bill already has bipartisan support.
Sen. Pat Toomey called Trump’s decision “the right step,” adding in his statement that “Congress needs to pass legislation to accommodate these young people while simultaneously addressing the other challenges within our deeply broken immigration system, including stopping dangerous sanctuary cities, strengthening border security, and cracking down on companies that hire people who are here illegally.”