Congressman Barletta Challenges President Obama Over Immigration Order

Colby Itkowitz
Allentown Morning Call

Rep. Barletta has asked House panel to investigate whether the administration is allowed to use ‘prosecutorial discretion’ in immigration decisions.

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, who gained national attention for his staunch anti-illegal immigration policies as mayor of Hazleton, is calling on Congress to investigate an order by the Obama administration allowing certain immigrants deferral from deportation.

Barletta immediately criticized Barack Obama when the president announced on June 15 that children of illegal immigrants who met certain criteria could receive renewable two-year work permits and avoid deportation.

Now the Republican lawmaker, who represents the 11th Congressional District, has asked a key congressional committee to investigate whether the Obama administration is allowed to use “prosecutorial discretion” in immigration decisions. Barletta said Congress passed a law in 1996 taking that power away and that officials are actually required by law to start deportation proceedings for illegal immigrants.

The Obama administration did not return requests for comment, but Ben Winograd, an attorney at the American Immigration Council, an advocacy group for immigrants, said Barletta is interpreting the law too broadly.

“The idea that anyone who successfully sneaked across the border must be automatically detained and placed in removal proceedings — no administration has followed that interpretation of the law since 1996,” Winograd said.

Barletta also introduced two related bills:

• One would require Congress to study the impact of the White House directive in terms of “national security, fraud, the American worker, American students, and our economy.”

• The second bill would prohibit Homeland Security officials from being punished if they ignore the Obama administration’s new immigration policy.

Barletta accused Obama of making the order for political reasons. Both parties are eager to make inroads with Latino voters before the November election.

Barletta became a national figure in the immigration community — heralded by some and loathed by others — for his controversial effort as mayor of Hazleton in 2006 to make it illegal for businesses to hire and landlords to rent to illegal immigrants. Barletta was sued and the law was found to be unconstitutional in federal court.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), a group that favors low immigration, said it was “heartening” that Barletta was challenging the Obama administration’s order. Mehlman said both Republicans andDemocrats, regardless of how they feel about the policy, should be concerned about the executive branch seizing Congress’ power.

“[Obama is] usurping more and more authority, more and more discretion, and no one at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue is doing anything about it,” Mehlman said. “The leadership has just not been there. Someone needs to poke them with a stick to see if the leadership is still breathing.”

But Winograd said such “nibbling around the edges” — as opposed to an attempting to pass a law that would overturn Obama’s order — is evidence that House Republicans are not serious about stopping the policy.

Read more:,0,4007752.story