Rep. Lou Barletta, from small-town mayor to illegal-immigrant basher to …

Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.) (Susan Walsh/AP)

Before he took his place as a rank-and-file congressman, Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Pa.)  was a go-it-alone, illegal-immigrant-busting, small-town mayor of Hazleton, Pa., population about  25,000.

Hazleton, nestled in Northeast Pennsylvania’s coal region, hit the national stage in 2006 when Barletta pushed through one of the nation’s strictest anti-illegal immigration ordinances, including a provision that penalizes landlords who knowingly rent to illegal immigrants.

A lawsuit over the never-enforced statute has ping-ponged through the court system since then, with a Philadelphia-based federal appeals court most recently striking it down. The Supreme Court declined to hear Hazleton’s appeal Monday.

Barletta, now nationally well-known (or infamous, depending on perspective), rode chest-puffed to Congress on the 2010 Republican wave. He told the Loop on Monday that while “very disappointed” in the high court’s decision, he will not give up his quest to weed out illegal immigrants.

“That’s the end of it,” Barletta said sourly, though he cited another federal appeals court ruling that upheld a similar law.

Congress has all but thrown in the towel on reconciling any immigration bill this year, but Barletta vows to continue to fight from the back benches. He’s now able to craft legislation, not just to save one town but the entire nation from “terrorists and drug dealers,” he says. Which, he adds, is an “even bigger role than the role I had as mayor.”

Given the GOP need to attract Latino voters in 2014 and beyond, the party leadership may decide to relegate him to a cameo rather than center stage.

Colby Itkowitz is a national reporter for In The Loop.
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