Last updated: February 21. 2013 11:38AM - 590 Views

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HAZLETON – Carlos Mejia took the immigration issue right to U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta in his hometown Wednesday.
Mejia, 45, asked Barletta to “not be so negative” when talking about immigrants and the issue of illegal immigration. Mejia owns an ambulance services company in Hazleton, where Barletta served as mayor for 10 years before being elected to Congress in 2010.
Barletta, a Republican, was elected to a second term in November, and the immigration issue about which he has been vocal for so long has triggered a national debate.
He has argued the U.S. immigration system is broken and needs to be repaired. He disagrees with President Obama’s recent plan to overhaul the system and another bipartisan approach proposed in the Senate, saying they don’t address the underlying causes of illegal immigration.
Barletta contends that the United States needs to enforce its current laws and secure its borders.
“The president’s plan to push for a clear pathway to citizenship, without meaningful border security first, will only make the problem worse,” he said.
The policy will encourage millions more to enter the country illegally and consequently take advantage of the benefits of American citizenship such as Medicare, Social Security, unemployment and other social programs, he said.
But Mejia urged Barletta to remember that all Americans were immigrants. “I respect everyone,” Mejia said. “The issue should not be where I came from, it’s where I go. Only then can we all go together.”
Barletta thanked Mejia for his comments and noted 40 percent of today’s illegal immigrants came to the United States legally on visas that now have expired. He stressed the distinction of “legal” versus “illegal,” and said illegal immigrants have cost the United States about $2.6 trillion in social program funding.
“Remember that between 10 and 20 million come here illegally,” Barletta said. “They take the jobs of legal immigrants and of other Americans.”
Barletta, 57, was comfortable in front of about 150 people attending the Hazleton Chamber of Commerce Red Carpet Breakfast at Genetti Inn on Route 309, who gave him a standing ovation when introduced.
Barletta serves on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the Education and Workforce Committee and the Committee on Homeland Security. He is chairman of the Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management Subcommittee.
Barletta was in Bloomsburg later Wednesday to announce a $15 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration that will allow for the construction of flood protection, which he said will preserve 900 jobs there.
The flood walls and other apparatus will address flooding problems suffered by Autoneum (formerly Rieter Automotive North America) and Windsor Foods, two of Columbia County’s largest employers. Both of these manufacturers endure damaging flooding when the Susquehanna River and Fishing Creek overflow their banks.
At the chamber breakfast, Barletta said he learned early on that the best way to get attention from Republican Party leadership was to “act up.” He said when he voted against the Continuing Resolution, he got summoned to House Speaker John Boehner’s office.
“It was pretty intimidating,” he said. “But I agreed to vote for it with conditions.”
Those conditions included providing funding for victims of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, and Boehner visiting the 11th Congressional District. Boehner came to Bloomsburg and saw the devastation of the storms.
Barletta said he wants to see passage of a highway bill that exceeds the short-term, 18-month version. He said a longer-term bill would encourage businesses to purchase equipment and to hire more workers.
He said Congress needs to pass a budget, cut spending drastically, reduce regulations, dissolve gridlock by promoting partisanship and create jobs.
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