Immigration Showdown in Harrisburg
By Natalka Karaman, Contributing Writer
“Bring your flak jacket,” joked one staffer to a member of the Harrisburg press corps.
The next two days in the Capitol will be interesting, to say the least. Today and Tomorrow, Pennsylvania House State Government Committee Majority Chairman Representative Daryl Metcalfe will hold two public hearings focusing on the “National Security Begins at Home” legislative package.
Following the introduction of 16 bills in the state House and state Senate this past spring regarding illegal immigration, the coming fall will certainly see a flutter of activity and political dispute as both pro and anti-immigration groups try to push their legislation.
Those testifying this week include law enforcement, think tank thinkers, Tea Partiers, and even those who have been accused of ties to white supremacists.
Metcalfe is a staunch advocate of immigration reform – he even founded a national coalition of like-minded state legislators. He has personally introduced three bills to “halt PA’s illegal alien invasion,” H.B. 738, 857 and 858 to the House. He believes that combating the estimated 140,000 illegal immigrants in Pennsylvania could potentially save tax payers up to four billion dollars. Yesterday, he called an executive order from President Barack Obama “treasonous.”
Civil rights advocates aren’t lying down.
Immediately before the hearing on Tuesday, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania joined state legislators and immigration activists for a press conference in the main rotunda of the state capitol in Harrisburg. The group included clergy and labor unions.
Their main argument Tuesday morning: economics. Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, cited cases in Georgia and Arizona, which he argued led to a hit to local businesses.
“Apparently, undermining the constitution and sabotaging our economy begins at the state capitol,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “These bills would be a disaster for the commonwealth.”
Two of the bills in the National Security Begins At Home package, H.B. 858 and S.B. 637, include mandates for Pennsylvania governments to use E-Verify. E-Verify is a federal database, handled by the Department of Homeland Security, which allows employers to check the legal status of potential employees.While the use of this system has been voluntary in the past, those who did use it complained of errors and massive privacy concerns. The databases include Social Security numbers, and visa and passport information which is vulnerable to hacking, Hoover said.
Metcalfe’s H.B. 738 includes a clause requiring Pennsylvania law enforcement officers to verify the citizenship status of any individual lawfully stopped for a crime who does not have a state ID or driver’s license. Other legislation cracks down on human trafficking in Pennsylvania, attacks illegal immigrants’ access to public benefits, or intends to hold cities and municipalities responsible for crimes committed by illegal immigrants in that jurisdiction.
The conservative make-up of state government makes it unlikely that pro-immigration groups will find much success. However, those seeking to crack down on immigration may have an equally tough time. Neither GOP party leaders nor Governor Tom Corbett have shown much interest in tackling controversial immigration policies.