HAZLETON – U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta Tuesday said the immigration proposal offered by the Senate's bipartisan Gang of 8 does not address underlying causes of illegal entry into the United States.
Barletta, R-Hazleton, said the proposal – to provide amnesty for more than 11 million illegal immigrants – would be disastrous for the country's already struggling economy and massive entitlement debt.
As new citizens, millions will be on the path to eligibility for public benefits, Barletta said.
Across the aisle, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, supports the Senate plan, although he said it's a bit short on details but long overdue.
Everybody knows that there are around 12 million undocumented aliens in the country, Cartwright said. I'd like to make taxpayers of these people and attempt to collect back taxes from them.
Cartwright said if only 5 million of the estimated 11 million undocumented aliens entered the workforce, it could mean a quarter of a trillion dollars in tax dollars collected.
Neither Cartwright nor Barletta could put a number on the amount of undocumented immigrants residing in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
April Mellody, spokeswoman for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, said the senator understands that immigration reform is a serious and complex challenge for the nation and one that will require a bipartisan solution.
While he has just begun to review this latest proposal, he (Casey) believes that any time you have Republicans and Democrats working across the aisle to come to a bipartisan consensus on a tough problem, that is a positive development, Mellody said.
Barletta cited a Heritage Foundation report that indicates granting amnesty to the illegal immigrant population would cost more than $2.6 trillion.
If we are serious about balancing our budget in 10 years, we cannot afford amnesty, Barletta said, adding that the study shows amnesty will cost American taxpayers $2.7 trillion above any taxes that will be collected.
That's based on Medicare payments, Social Security, unemployment compensation, food stamps and other welfare programs, Barletta said. An estimated 60 percent of the illegal aliens in the U.S. do not have high school diplomas and therefore will be dependent on government programs.
Creating a pathway to citizenship before the borders are secure, said Barletta, will encourage millions of others to enter the United States illegally and receive the benefits of citizenship at a time when 22 million Americans are out of work. Immigrants who are in the country legally will be harmed the most because of the increased competition for jobs that are already hard to find, he said.
The second-term congressman said the Republican Party is fooling itself if it thinks Latino voters will support GOP candidates in the future because of this pathway to citizenship. Anyone who believes that is grossly mistaken, he said. They will become Democrats because of the social programs they depend on.
The Senate Gang of 8 is made up of four Democrats and four Republicans who together announced the Senate plan.
While mayor of Hazleton, Barletta said he saw the impact illegal immigration had on the city's budget. He said the city's population grew by 50 percent, while tax revenue remained the same.
That made it much more difficult to provide services and balance the budget, he said.
Barletta said 40 percent of aliens did not cross the borders illegally – they came here with visas that have now expired and there's no way of tracking them. He wants to stop fraudulent documentation rings as well.
The proposed plan has to pass the Senate and then the House, where Barletta said it will have considerable support.
A lot of people want to get this issue off the table, he said. I will do everything I can to fight this.