GOP congressman refuses to cut ties with extremist group

FAIR's mission is nativist at its core, but Rep. Lou Barletta isn't backing down.

Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., gets on an elevator after arriving for a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Rep. Lou Barletta, R-Pa., gets on an elevator after arriving for a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Pressure is mounting for elected officials to cut ties with extremist hate groups in the wake of violent clashes in Charlottesville.

A recent Change.org petition calls for Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA) to sever his relationship with the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), where he serves on the board of advisers. As recently as Wednesday, Barletta had defended his position, saying he was “proud” to be on the board of an organization that “seeks to fix our nation’s broken immigration system.”

Barletta is one of at least five key advisers to President Donald Trump who have ties to FAIR: Jeff Sessions, Kris Kobach, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller are all connected in some way to the group as well; all have either served as legal counsel, board members, or longtime allies of the group.

The Pennsylvania representative is also one of the most hard-line anti-immigrant members of Congress. As mayor of Hazelton, he pushed for English to become the city’s official language and cracked down on illegal immigration, punishing businesses who hired undocumented immigrants and landlords who rented to them.

As a congressman, Barletta has been a vocal supporter of Donald Trump, endorsing him as early as March 2016. Barletta supported Trump’s proposed policies to build a wall along the Southern border and temporarily ban Muslims from entering the country. Now, he has become one of Trump’s most reliable supporters of immigration policy in Congress, introducing a bill that would deny health care tax credits to undocumented immigrants, and refusing to vote for the American Health Care Act (AHCA) unless that provision was included. In April, he sponsored a bill that would deny all federal funding to sanctuary cities.

Barletta has defended attacks on his involvement in FAIR before, claiming the organization isn’t an extremist group. The Southern Poverty Law Center, however, says otherwise.

The SPLC has labeled FAIR a hate group and says the organization has one mission: to “severely limit immigration into the United States.” Their veil of legitimacy is maintained through lobbying the federal government and obscures its true motivation, which is nativist at its core. One of the main goals of FAIR is to upend the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which ended racist quotas favoring white, European immigrants. The organization has helped compose some of the most virulent anti-immigration policies in the country, including a 2010 Arizona law that sanctioned the racial profiling of Latinos and others presumed to be “foreign-born” in the United States. The law was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court.

FAIR’s ideology is very similar to beliefs espoused by the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville. Prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer has also actively called for a white, European “ethnostate“, and it is one of the principal reasons behind why many who share his belief support Donald Trump.