Hazleton Standard Speaker
“Barletta Examines Refugee Situation, State Budget Crisis”
December 16, 2015
By Kent Jackson
Immigration screeners have so few tools for vetting Syrian refugees that they have resorted to asking if the refugees are terrorists, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, R-11, said.
“Who in God’s name is going to say, ‘Yes, I’m a terrorist, but I’d like to come to the United States. Is this going to hurt me?’” Barletta said.
Speaking Tuesday to the editorial board of the Standard-Speaker, Barletta said national security advisers have told him they have no database for checking backgrounds of Syrian immigrants, and the United States can’t ask Bashar al-Assad’s government for help because they’re trying to overthrow him.
For now, Barletta thinks the United States should stop admitting Syrian refugees and develop a screening process. He also asked Gov. Tom Wolf in a letter to stop resettling Syrians in Pennsylvania.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS has made America its No. 1 enemy and pledged to infiltrate the refugee program, Barletta said.
A fiancée visa program allowed Syed Rizwan Farook to bring his future wife Tashfeen Malik to America a year before they shot to death 14 people and wounded 22 others at an office Christmas party in San Bernardino, California, on Dec. 2.
Malik had pledged loyalty to ISIS on her Facebook page, but no security official checked her posts, Barletta said.
From 38 nations, people can enter the United States without a visa or much screening, he said.
Moreover, Barletta said nearly half of people who come to the United States overstay their visas and authorities lose track of them. He has called for visitors to sign in and out with a fingerprint or other biometric marker at all airports and other entry points so authorities can account for them.
“When you look at all of the gaping holes in our homeland security, how anyone can tell me how they feel safer today than they did before?” Barletta said.
Barletta began noticing ties between immigration methods and national security while he was mayor of Hazleton for 11 years. He said most of the immigrants who were in Hazleton without legal status flew in from the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico, and many obtained false identities.
“What is wrong with saying take a time out until we get a handle on who is coming to America?” he said when calling for a pause in Syrian resettlement.
Meanwhile, Barletta proposed providing safe havens for Syrians closer to their homeland by enforcing no-fly zones over them and setting up settlements with help from Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
He supports using American special forces and advisers to direct attacks on ISIS because air attacks alone won’t succeed.
Critical of President Barack Obama for not detailing a battle plan, Barletta believes that ground troops should come from a coalition of nations, not necessarily the United States.
America, he said, has been a compassionate nation, but there are “lots of people who we could help,” such as veterans sleeping on streets or schoolchildren.
He noted that Wolf released federal funds to settle refugees but hasn’t loosened federal money for Pennsylvania schools, many of which will be taking loans in January to remain open if the state budget remains unfinished.
In a letter to Barletta and other lawmakers on Nov. 17, Wolf said states don’t have the authority to refuse refugees whom the federal government admits. Many of the refugees are elderly, families and children fleeing the kinds of attacks that occurred in Paris on Nov. 13, Wolf wrote, while adding that he consulted with state police and emergency management to strengthen security.
Asked about Barletta’s comments on Tuesday, Wolf’s press secretary Jeffrey Sheridan said Barletta knows the process for settling refugees — or should know it — because of his position on the Homeland Security Committee.
The state, meanwhile, cannot release federal money for education during a budget impasse, according to the state Constitution and an act dating to the 1970s, Sheridan said.
A federal education bill that recently passed contains money, which Barletta supported, for the SHINE after-school program that children attend in Luzerne and Carbon counties.
Barletta and state Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, have favored after-school programs and other outreaches to steer children from joining criminal gangs and taking drugs.
Would the same techniques deflect Americans from answering the call that ISIS makes through social media for recruits?
“You’ve got to change the minds and lives of children,” Barletta said, adding later that government needs help to provide safety. Americans, including members of the Muslim community, he said, have an obligation to report neighbors who they notice are becoming radicalized.
Barletta is entering his sixth year in Congress and reached personal goals this year when he was named as a Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee chairman and conference committee member for the transportation bill.
The bill covers five years, which Barletta favored so companies will have confidence to invest in new equipment and municipalities will make plans they wouldn’t enter with shorter bills.
Also, the bill bans truck tractors from pulling triple trailers and carrying heavier loads.
An article by FairWarning, a nonprofit news organization, that the Standard-Speaker published on Nov. 29 detailed money that lobbyists for the trucking industry paid to Congress while seeking support for allowing longer, heavier trucks on the roads.
Barletta, who has received $52,000 from the trucking industry, said the article might have given readers a false impression about his position.
Actually, he led the fight against triple trailers and heavier loads in Congress.
While interstate highways are built to withstand the weight, local roads aren’t, he said.
As mayor, he learned that the federal government isn’t going to repair Hazleton roads.
He also believes longer, heavier trucks pose safety problems.
“Do you want your daughter alongside a triple trailer coming down a mountain here in Pennsylvania? … I’m not willing to put my family’s safety at risk because stores want to save money on shipping,” he said.
As FairWarning reported, Barletta wants to remove safety ratings of trucking firms from the Internet until they become more accurate, because, as he told the reporter, the ratings are misleading now. Trucking companies lose points for accidents in which they aren’t at fault, and a firm that released a bad driver is penalized in the rating instead of the next firm to hire the bad driver.
Because transportation systems are vital to the safety and economy of the country, Barletta favors a dedicated funding source to pay for maintenance and improvements. His bill proposes a fee on oil companies and refineries, as Pennsylvania adopted for its highways, but he is open to other suggestions.
He also thinks Pennsylvania’s coal should have a role in the world’s energy future even as nations try to live up to the accord signed in Paris to reduce carbon emissions and limit global temperature increases.
Clean coal technology can provide energy, Barletta said. Moreover, if companies stop mining, they will stop reclaiming the land scarred by previous mining.
Plus, the carbon in anthracite, the hard coal of Hazleton and Northeastern Pennsylvania, has become a component in industrial products such as phones, filters and carbon fiber.
The coal, he said, could help draw manufacturers to the region.