By Anthony Cruz
Republican Congressman Lou Barletta is the representative for Pennsylvania’s 11th District. Congressman Barletta served as Mayor of Hazleton, PA from 2000 to 2010, when he was elected to the U.S. Congress, where he serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure and Education and Workforce Committees. Throughout his career, Congressman Barletta has focused on policy issues surrounding illegal immigration.
What was the adjustment like from being the Mayor of Hazleton to becoming a U.S. Congressman?
LB: There is a big difference [from] legislation passed as a mayor, where three votes on city council [can] create a majority, so it is much easier to get something passed, as I did dealing with illegal immigration. This I was able to do at a local level. Congress is obviously much different with 435 members of [the House]. It is much more difficult to be able to get your legislation or ideas into law.
[In addition] time, which is the biggest adjustment I have had to make in becoming a member of Congress versus [being] a mayor, where you are home in your own home.
As mayor, you pledged to make Hazleton one of the toughest cities for undocumented immigrants, and you passed the Immigration Relief Act, which was struck down in the courts. However, support for immigration reform with more support for undocumented immigrants, is increasing. What do you believe is the future of immigration reform?
LB: I believe that Congress is going to pass some form of immigration reform. But I believe the purpose behind the legislation maybe more political than good policy, which I don’t believe is the right reason to make public policy that will affect our country for decades to come.
What do you believe is the most misunderstood aspect of illegal immigration?
LB: What’s misunderstood the most is that illegal is illegal. Many times, the people or the media, purposely or not, confuse illegal immigration with legal immigration and when that happens, you can no longer have an intelligent discussion about the issue. It becomes emotional and it takes on a tone of [being] anti-immigrant, when that’s not fair to the immigrants who are here legally. And that’s what happens the most when you take a stand against this issue, it is sometimes misunderstood with legal immigration.
On a separate topic, the future of Amtrak was a concern in the 2012 election. Governor Mitt Romney proposed Amtrak’s privatization in order to make it sustainable. What are your views on the future of Amtrak? Should it be privatized?
LB: Well, Amtrak needs to do some reforms. I am on the transportation committee, and we have oversight over Amtrak. Last year, for example, Amtrak lost $8.4 million on food and beverage sales on the trains. They’ve lost over $80 million on food and beverage sales over the last 10 years. They have been losing money on food and beverages since 1986, so Congress had passed a law which allowed them to sell food and beverage, but the law clearly states that they must break even. So I think Amtrak needs to tighten its belt, try to run a more efficient enterprise, if Congress is going to continue to subsidize the operation with taxpayers money. They need to be more efficient.
In 2009, President Obama lifted some travel restrictions on Cuba. In addition to this, some members of Congress have supported lifting the embargo on Cuba. While these supporters have overwhelmingly been Democrats, Republican Senator Jeff Flake has expressed a desire to have the embargo lifted. What do you believe the United States’ relationship with Cuba should be? Do you believe that we should end the embargo on Cuba?
LB: No, I don’t believe we should end the embargo at this time. Cuba, because of its strategic location, could present a problem as long as it continues to have relationships with countries that want to have a military and defensive advantage over the United States. I believe [that] at this time, we should continue to keep the embargo.
As a member of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, what critical issues do Pennsylvanians face when it comes to education? Do we need dramatic education reform?
LB: Unfortunately, although federal dollars have increased over the last two decades, scores in reading, math, and science have not improved. We need to take good hard look at No Child Left Behind, which I believe is failing our students. It’s not that our students are failing. I believe No Child Left Behind is failing our students. We need to give more flexibility to our teachers and to the people closest to the classroom — parents, superintendents, principals, and teachers — and still hold them accountable with federal dollars but allow more flexibility in the classrooms to get better results.
Penn is a place where many students aspire to be mayors, governors, Congressmen, and Senators. What advice do you have for those who wish to run for higher office later in life?
LB: One, you need to obviously stay very connected to the issues. Always stay close to the people to hear views and be a good listener. But also try to improve your communication skills. There are two qualities that are very important to making someone a good elected official. One is to be a good listener, and two is to be a good communicator. They are skills I never anticipated [needing when] running for office. If that had been one of my ambitions, I would work on my people skills, communications skills, and learn to be a good listener.
This interview contains minor edits for grammar and clarity.
Image courtesy of http://barletta.house.gov/.