Trio of immigration bills unveiled to stop 'illegal alien invasion' in PA
Implement a workplace verification system that will ensure only legal residents work in Pennsylvania. Make ‘sanctuary cities’ pay for damages caused by their undocumented residents. Make citizenship checks a prerequisite for public benefits.
Those are nutshell goals of three immigration-related bills introduced Wednesday in the PA House of Representatives, which seek to quell what their sponsors repeatedly and unequivocally called an “illegal alien invasion” in the Keystone State.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. There are officially crosshairs on Philadelphia’s ‘sanctuary’ city designation
The newest of the three bills comes from Rep. Martina White, a first-term Philly Republican in the House. Six weeks after Mayor Jim Kenney, on his first day in office, restored Philadelphia’s status as a “sanctuary city,” White outlined legislation that effectively dismantle it — for the second time in a matter of months.
White’s legislation would make Philadelphia pay for any damages to people or property as a result “criminal activity by unauthorized aliens.” More importantly, it would lift restrictions put on municipal employees that prohibit them, in most cases, from sharing citizenship information about federal employees.
As is, Philadelphia is of many “sanctuary cities” where local police and prison officials are barred from cooperating with federal immigration authorities. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, needs a warrant to request a detainer for an undocumented individual in the city’s custody.
“Let me be as direct as I can,” White said. “Sanctuary cities violate federal law...If cities are allowed to ignore the law, where do they stop? And what messages do they send?”
White cited findings from a 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office, which looks at cost of both crimes and incarceration for undocumented persons in the U.S. To highlight that cost to taxpayers, White cited another study from the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) which says that, in 2010, the estimated 140,000 illegal aliens and 27,400 of their U.S.-born children in Pennsylvania accounted for a $1.4 billion fiscal burden. FAIR is classified as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
2. Metcalfe revives E-Verify
Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Butler County Republican with a long history of contentious immigration-related legislation, brought an old bill back to life on Wednesday.
First unveiled in 2009, Metcalfe reintroduced his proposal that would require all employers use E-Verify — a web-based system that works with Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration to determine if an employee is legally eligible for work in the United States.
Of course, some employers already use E-Verify in PA. How does it work? For one example, see this story about what happened at Urban Outfitters last month. After acquiring the Vetri restaurant group, 30 undocumented restaurant workers lost their jobs after being run through the E-Verify process used by Urban.
But it can be more problematic than that. There is an ongoing debate about E-Verify's accuracy. Some argue that, without improvements, it could potentially force more workers into the underground economy.
3. Limiting access to "Access" cards, or public benefits
Rep. Doyle Heffley, another Republican lawmaker from Carbon County, brought back his bill from last year that seeks to close the gap between non-citizens and public benefits.
The issue was brought to Heffley’s attention by a Carbon County police officer who, during routine traffic stops, had found undocumented residents using fake driver’s licenses. (Universal drivers license legislation has been introduced before as another way to address this problem.) But that wasn't the pressing concern.
“[The police] confiscated the fake IDs, but he could not confiscate the Access cards, many access cards in other people’s names,” Heffley said. “In the drug trade, they’ll often use Access cards [in the same way] as cash.”
Undocumented residents do not qualify for Access cards. However, U.S.-born children qualify for public benefits regardless of their parents' legal status. Carrying someone else's Access card is not a crime in Pennsylvania.
Heffley’s legislation serves more as an enforcement measure, similar to E-Verify.
It would require agencies that issue public benefits to verify the legal status of applicants by using the SAVE program, or Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements, another online process that effectively does for public benefits what E-Verify software does for employment.
4. Connecting this legislation to the Brussels terror attacks
Each bill's sponsor made reference to Monday's horrific terror attacks in Brussels, either as a gesture of solidarity or in relation to the proposed legislation. In most cases, the comments were made as a more or less neutral introduction. But in his concluding remarks, Metcalfe drew an explicit parallel between the trio of bills and the recent act of terror.
The Belgium attacks are similar to those in "Paris ... and then here on our own soil in San Bernardino," Metcalfe said, referring to ISIS-affiliated attack in California last December. "So the timing of this introduction today is very appropriate. Because the illegal alien invasion that is occurring here in the United States of America provides an immense cover and camouflage for those who would seek to do our citizens harm."
Metcalfe did not mention that the two shooters in San Bernardino were legal residents in the U.S. who legally obtained the semi-automatic rifles they used in their attack. Nor did Metcalfe mention that at least two of three suspects behind the Brussels massacre were Belgian citizens. Instead, Metcalfe moved on to reaffirm his disapproval of Gov. Tom Wolf's open-doors policy for Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war in their homeland.
"This three-pronged attack that we have through this legislation is going to go after [the problems]," he said. "We need to shut off the faucets that are attracting illegals here. Shut off the illegal jobs. Shut off the illegal benefits. And shut off the sanctuary cities... We need to stop them from trying to steal the American dream when so many people are trying to work so hard to achieve it."
Later, responding to a question about assimilation from the sole reporter that appeared to attend the Harrisburg press conference, Metcalfe said "I am not interested in assimilating illegal aliens, I'm interested in deporting illegal aliens."