With ‘new sheriff’ in White House, Pa. legislators hasten to bolster immigration laws

    Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who previously chaired the House State Government Committee and gained notoriety for once pledging to “block all substantive Democrat legislation,” will now lead the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.  (AP file photo)

    Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who previously chaired the House State Government Committee and gained notoriety for once pledging to “block all substantive Democrat legislation,” will now lead the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. (AP file photo)

    Under the auspices of the Trump presidency, Republican state lawmakers in Pennsylvania are refreshing bills calling for stricter immigration laws.

    A legislative package called “Our National Security Begins at Home” is a slate of proposals that Harrisburg has seen before — but that lawmakers hope will draw new momentum this time around.

    “There’s kind of a new sheriff in town in the White House,” said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, at a press briefing Monday.

    This session, Metcalfe and other Pennsylvania lawmakers are hoping the president’s immigration policy agenda will boost their own — and vice versa.

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    “With the new administration in D.C., it gives us a new opportunity to partner with them, to work with them,” said Metcalfe.

    Bills in the package include:

    House Bill 856, which prohibits private employers from hiring unauthorized immigrants, requiring them to enroll in the federal government’s E-Verify database to check Social Security numbers;
    “Professional Licensees Illegal Employment Act” (bill not yet reintroduced), which would suspend licenses of professionals, such as landscape architects, found to knowingly employ unauthorized immigrants;
    House Bill 28 (which does not appear to have been introduced this session), which calls for “criminal and economic sanctions against any illegal alien sanctuary city within the commonwealth”;
    House Bill 14, which would pull state funding from university “sanctuary” campuses that do not share information with federal immigration enforcers;
    A bill by Rep. Ryan Warner,  R-Fayette, that would force all municipalities to honor Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detainers, effectively ending “sanctuary” city policies;
    And, House Bill 826, which would mandate all departments that provide benefits use the Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlement program run by the Department of Homeland Security, to determine eligibility.

    Together — and with their counterparts in the state Senate, such as SB9 and SB10 — these bills aim to reduce the factors that attract immigrants to stay in the commonwealth illegally.

    “We have to make sure we are shutting the faucets that attract illegals to Pennsylvania — those are jobs, benefits, going to so-called sanctuary cities and campuses,” said Metcalfe, who is the chairman of the House State Government Committee.

    Critics say the bills are simply old wine in new bottles, no more viable than they were on previous introductions. (City & State did a comprehensive story on earlier versions of the bills last fall.)

    “This is the same old playbook from Rep. Metcalfe’s alt-right, white nationalist perspective,” said Andy Hoover, communications director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “He’s been running these kinds of bills out there for a decade; they have, by and large, failed.”

    Most of the bills haven’t gotten traction in the past because they are bad policies, according to Hoover. For example, many Pennsylvania counties do not follow ICE detainers — not because they are resistant to the concept, but because the detainers make local municipalities liable if ICE is wrong. A 2014 case in Lehigh County, Galarza v. Szalczyk, found counties could be sued for violating the Fourth Amendment if ICE accidentally calls for the detention of a U.S. citizen.

    In October, a bill by Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, to penalize “sanctuary” cities did pass the House, showing that stricter immigration policies can draw wide support in Harrisburg.

    Other bills appear redundant or too expensive, according to critics.

    Gov. Tom Wolf has promised to veto any bills that expand the use of the Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlement program, saying they would cost more money to implement than they’d save.

    The program is already used to vet recipients of federal benefits, such as SNAP and cash assistance, so the state House and Senate bills would only be felt in the realm of unemployment benefits, according to lawyers with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia.

    Applicants already provide proof of their legal status when applying for benefits, according to Community Legal Services’ Maripat Pileggi, which “the welfare office will verify” through the Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlement program.

    The only department that doesn’t currently use that program is the unemployment compensation office, which Pileggi said is not set up to do so. Most immigrants in the country legally are not eligible to receive benefits until they have resided in the U.S. for five years.

    E-Verify, already used to vet state employees and some state contractors, has also drawn fire for mistakenly flagging legal residents, although around 20 states currently use that federal process in some capacity.

    Lawmakers pressing these policies maintain they are necessary to protect the commonwealth from an existential threat.

    With the Trump administration “serious about exercising his rightful authority to keep our nation safe from the illegal alien invasion,” said Metcalfe, “it has never been more urgent for state lawmakers to actively do their part … to ensure that the economic and national security interests of law-abiding citizens and legal immigrants always come first.”

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