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Lou Barletta, an immigration hard-liner in Congress, endorses Trump

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Rep. Lou Barletta, the conservative Republican congressman whose Pennsylvania district has long been a focal point in the national immigration debate, endorsed Donald Trump on Tuesday in an interview with The Washington Post.

“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.”

Barletta, 56, represents Hazleton, a working-class city in eastern Pennsylvania that has drawn attention and criticism for its immigration policies since 2006, when Barletta, then mayor, led a sweeping crackdown on illegal immigrants and businesses that hired them, including penalties for landlords who rent to illegal immigrants.

Barletta, who also pushed as mayor to make English the city’s official language, defended his policies through contentious court battles and for a time became one of the most prominent voices within the Republican Party’s wing of immigration hard-liners.

Since his election to the House in 2010, Barletta has remained a critic of illegal immigration and bipartisan efforts to reform immigration policy but has otherwise kept a relatively low profile.

Barletta said he has been pressured in recent days by associates and colleagues to not endorse Trump. “For me, I’m always going to do what I believe,” he said, declining to specify who had advised against backing Trump. “I’ve been a lone ranger my whole life.”

Barletta argued that Trump could win over voters who rarely, if ever, voted for a Republican presidential nominee with his populist views and harsh criticism of current policy on immigration and trade.

“He is bringing more Democrats and independents to our party than anyone I can remember since Ronald Reagan,” Barletta said.

Turning to the reelection race this year for Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.), Barletta said he believes "blue-collar Democrats" will turn out for Trump and boost Toomey's chances, in spite of worries in party leadership circles that a Trump nomination could turn off some moderate voters in the swing state. "These Democrats, they won't pull the straight Democrat lever," he predicted.

Earlier in the 2016 race for the Republican nomination, Barletta supported Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania.

Barletta said he does not have a relationship with Trump or his campaign, saying he has never spoken with the billionaire mogul nor was he invited to a closed session of lawmakers on Monday on Capitol Hill that was hosted by him.

But after spending months quietly watching as Trump stood by his proposals to build a massive wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country, Barletta said he felt compelled to sign on and assist his efforts.

“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.”