Guest Blogger: Stephen A. Glassman

Diversity key to equality for ALL
PHRC offers historical view on immigration debate

By Stephen A. Glassman
PA Human Relations Commission

There has been much in the news recently about illegal immigrants and efforts on the national, state and local levels to restrict their access to both private and governmental services. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is concerned by both the content and the tenor of these arguments, particularly here in Pennsylvania. As Chairperson of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, I feel it is important for the Commission to weigh in on this important issue.

The Commission enforces Pennsylvania’s laws that prohibit both governmental and private discrimination in the areas of employment, housing and commercial property, education and public accommodations. The public accommodations provisions include services provided by the Commonwealth and its political subdivisions, as well as by the private sector. The protected classes contained in our state’s anti-discrimination laws include, among others, race, color, ancestry and national origin. The Commission also is responsible for addressing situations involving racial and ethnic tension, and for promoting equal opportunity and good will among all who visit or reside in Pennsylvania.

As a law enforcement agency, the Commission does not, of course, condone or support illegal immigration. The Commission, however, does view the current policy debate on immigration through a specific historical lens. The Commission just celebrated its 50th anniversary. In 1956, if you were African American, Jewish, a woman, or from any number of non-European countries, you had difficulty finding employment, were excluded from renting or owning a home in many neighborhoods, and were often forced to attend schools that were either physically segregated or educationally inferior. Daily life activities, that we now take for granted, were denied to many through ignorance, rudeness, overt hostility and humiliation or, often, outright exclusion.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission has sought to insure that a person’s race, skin color, national origin, or ancestry did not result in such patently unfair discrimination. Unfortunately, those who are different from the majority, who are the most disenfranchised and the least able to protect or speak for themselves, are the ones most likely to become the targets of discrimination. Immigrants are simply the current target, whether they are Hispanic, Asian, African, or Middle Eastern. They are not the first. They will, unfortunately, not be the last.

The Commission’s assessment of various legislative initiatives and, more pointedly, our assessment of the tone and tenor of much of the public debate, suggests that the impetus for action comes from the same type of prejudice and fear that has had such demonstrable and unfortunate consequences in the past. Much of the proposed legislation and public debate is centered on punishing both those who are here illegally and those who provide them with employment, food and housing. Inevitably, these laws will unfairly ensnare many individuals who are living here legally and will encourage aggressive behavior against anyone perceived to be an illegal immigrant.

Reform, to be truly effective, must be broader in its approach; punitive action, alone, will not solve the problem. It will simply encourage people to “obey” these new laws by treating anyone who looks or sounds “foreign” as if they are also “illegal.” This is not only bad social policy. It is also unlawful under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and other state and federal laws.

States and municipalities should not be focused on passing legislation concerning the rights of illegal immigrants. This is a uniquely federal issue which should be dealt with on the national level. Current federal legislation likely already preempts or prohibits the passage of state or local laws relating to this issue.

If state and local legislators must get involved, they have a duty to clearly articulate the precise problems which need to be solved. The Commission believes that a thorough analysis of the health, safety, economic, social, and cultural consequences of most of the legislative proposals being made on illegal immigration in Pennsylvania will show that they may in fact be unconstitutional and are likely to do more harm than good. This is also true for the various “English Only” laws being proposed in Pennsylvania.

These laws have been presented in conjunction with legislation that intends to discourage illegal immigration. This is an unfortunate and inappropriate association, as restrictions on the use of languages other than English will be detrimental to all residents, including many people who are American citizens and/or who are legally residing in Pennsylvania communities. Puerto Ricans, for example, are US citizens by birth and their official language is Spanish.

Legitimate concerns about immigration reform ought to be addressed. But they should be discussed in an environment that is founded on shared democratic principles of respect and inclusion. This Commonwealth was founded and has prospered on such principles. If, as it appears, the focus is on the status of those immigrants who have not arrived in this country through a legally approved process, any legislative action should be clearly limited to address this concern on the narrowest terms possible and on terms that minimize possible adverse consequences on a Commonwealth full of immigrants and the descendants of immigrants who are here legally.

It is also imperative that any new legislative action include provisions that would penalize those who, under the guise of seeking to comply with the new laws, intentionally or unintentionally engage in discrimination against individuals simply because of their ancestry or because they may look or sound like they were not born here.

The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission continues to lead Pennsylvanians in our collective struggle to achieve equal rights for all. In doing so we recognize that, at its core, this continuing struggle involves learning to appreciate, respect, and value the contributions of others — not only those who are most like us, but also those who are most different from us.

10 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Stephen A. Glassman

  1. A couple of things I’m having trouble with in this posting:

    – Women, blacks, Jews, and non-Europeans were all U.S. citizens or legal immigrants. It seems like apples and oranges to say illegal immigrants are in the same situation as citizens were in.

    – Doesn’t it seem strange to say that making English the official language would be discriminatory, but saying that Puerto Ricans are citizens and that Spanish is their official language? Why can Puerto Rico have an official language but not PA?

  2. Thank you Mr Glassman, you said it very well.

    To answer anonymous’ concerns.

    The connection between citizens who were discriminated against, and illegal immigrants, is two fold. The first is the way the debate plays out as an attempt to punish a group of people, casting those people as bad people who are the cause of all ills in the region. The pejoratives are very similar, whether it was against the Irish, or Blacks, or Jews and Gays in Nazi Germany, or Illegal Immigrants today.

    As an aside, my feeling is that the reason for a lot of this hate based rhetoric (both now and in the past) is a way to control people. Not so much to control the group being opressed, but as a way to control the majority. If you’re not with us, you’re against us, and you don’t want to be against us. My view is that the current immigration debate is a smoke screen by the Right to divert attention from the most massive failure of the Federal Government in a hundred years – and yes, I’m referring to Iraq (no WMDs and no pre-invasion connection to Al Queida), the borrow and spend Republicans cutting taxes and increasing the National Debt, trampling on the Constitution, Creationist lovers, etc etc. But that’s just my opinion, yours may differ.

    The second connection between citizens who were discriminated against, and illegal immigrants, is the result of the rhetoric. The (probably) unconstitutional laws restricting housing or whether someone can legally drive a car (the driving thing is a classic case of biting your tongue to spite your face, or however that saying goes – if they can’t have a driver’s licence, then they can’t have insurance, so the law abiding citizen pays higher insurance to cover uninsured motorists). Let’s put a face on this. Hazelton’s recent laws don’t just affect illegal aliens, and they don’t affect all illegal aliens equally. The effect is felt by all Hispanics, whether they are a citizen, a legal immigrant, or an illegal immigrant. Does everyone who rents an apartment in Hazelton have to show their Birth Certificate, or only Hispanics?

    Regarding your comment on Spanish and Puerto Rico. I think Mr Glassman’s point is that Spanish is the main language of Puerto Rica from a historical perspective, and is the language used in every day life today, irrespective of whether it is the official language or not. Puerto Rican’s are American citizens, and forcing the US Government to only use English to communicate with them would be really stupid.

    Cheers, Neil.

  3. Ranting and raving against illegal emigrants is just the last socially acceptable outlet for small minded, mean-spirited bigotry.

    Making English the “official language” is just a mean-spirited way of causing brown people pain and suffering simply for the color of their skin.

    That’s all there is to this “issue.” Look into your hart and tell me it isn’t true.

  4. I’ve looked into my heart.
    One thing I know and see there is that illegal immigration on a massive scale–in the uncounted millions, by all assessments–is a fact that all my personal, on-on-one love for my fellow man of all races, colors and languages can’t make “right” or tenable. I’m a “lefty”, I’m a liberal catholic who believes in free choice(yes, I differ with my church on that and other issues). I’m a woman. I’m a mom. But I also live in a city and state that is getting to be seriously overcrowded via illegal immigration, making life MUCH more difficult for everyone–legally and illegally here.

    By looking the other way as all of us have for decades(with the best of intentions) we’ve given a free pass to 1) Mexico, whose oligarchy is thrilled to have their poor come here for substandard wages and health care they’d not receive at home, and 2)enabled and enriched the sordid businesses who get FAT off the profit of ILLEGAL workers.
    Yesterday the closure of another prominent emergency room(Daniel Freeman)was projected as imminent. This is happening because of ILLEGAL, not legal, people who know this is a no-questions-asked form of health care for them. DO I “blame” them? No. I do blame the federal govt. for letting CA hold the ever-enlarging(or is that shrinking?) bag, letting actual federal taxpayers go broke paying for people who are simply not supposed to be here(many of whom are LEGAL immigrants whose struggles are made moot by the non-differentation of legal vs. illegal).

    These are actual, real, difficult issues, yet to say one is against ILLEGAL immigration is to immediately be labeled a wacko/neo-con(never mind that BushCo LOVES the illegal class), a hatemonger, racist, a fool or any other bigoted, self-serving label that a corrupt and selfish bunch of “activists” call them(who are interested in ONE thing: their own individual advancement and power, politically). Utter cynicism.
    Most of the illegal immigrants recently here and who plan on coming over don’t WANT to be here, they feel they must come because their own country offers them absolutely NOTHING, and the US will by law provide their newborns with citizenship, with medical care(albeit only in an emergency room never meant for that purpose)and an education–and themselves a job that’s slave wages by OUR, US standards but wealth by those of Mexico.
    For each person here illegally, much more is taken away than replaced in the public chest set aside for school and health care. This simply can’t continue. Mexico(mainly)is a smug, entitled, elitist mess of a country(I’m talking about the goverment, of course) that depends upon our porous border to avoid outright revolution–which in my opinion they should have, and soon. Yes, Virginia, it’s possible to speak spanish(as I do); love and respect the hispanic history and culture and fellow americans of lation heritage that I share my state with; not “depend” on or exploit illegal persons(as I don’t–never mind that I’m always lectured that I couldn’t live without an illegal gardener or maid, neither of which I’ve ever used in my life-can’t afford any maid or gardener, period); be a political liberal who hates Bush, the war, our aggression, the gifts to the ultra-rich, AND be firmly for enforced borders and severe penalties (including prison) for US employers of illegal people.
    Don’t dare call me a racist; I am an angeleno, and an american. There is a difference between illegal and legal, no matter how some mich think it’s a stupid distinction or wish it away. This is not a country of squatters, not as long as this generation has been alive. We just can’t sustain endless “growth”. Period.

    And by the way, no, there’s nothing “racist” about saying that the language of the United States of America, a sovereign nation, is english; it’s a requirement–of legal citizenship.

  5. This isn’t about just Hispanics. It is against Illegal Immigrants peroid! I really cannot fathom what you can’t understand about the word Illegal or is that now a meaningless term?

  6. Comments on “Illegal” Immigrants.

    Economic migrants are not criminals. The emigration laws are not criminal laws like those against robbers and murderers. They are more like “civil” infractions. The term “illegal immigrant” generates confusion about their legal status and is just a rhetorical device to whip up hysteria.

    At one time, if a person took on more debt than he could manage, he became an “illegal debtor” and was treated as a criminal. He was locked up in debtors’ prison. After some time it was realized that this was a bad way of looking at the problem. Treating the “illegal debtor” as a criminal was not only bad for the debtor, it was bad for the creditor, and it was bad for society. New legal categories and ways of approaching the problem were created, and they were more humaine and more effective.

    In the case of economic migrants, rather than being progressive and humaine, and treating a probelm (if there is one) rationally and humainly, we are being asked to go back to the “debtor prison” mentality of RIGHT (me) vs. WRONG (you).

    One question is why we would be whipping ourselves up into a frenzy about all of this. The answer is that the damned forginers are not white. That is the basic bottom line that lies behind all the moralistic hysteria. If the economic migrants looked and talked like you and me, there just would not be a big concern. Instead of thumping our chests and ranting and raving we would have a resonable discussion, if we even had to worry about it at all. Race is the only thing driving this issue.

  7. To the Liberal Mom:

    I asked you to look into your hart. Maybe I should have asked you to look into a mirror. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, is it a duck? It seems like you’ve swallowed the right-wing party line.

    Uncounted Millions!!!!
    Corrupt and Selfish Activists!!!
    Slave Wages!!!
    Nothing more than the typical race-inspired hysteria.

    And if you speak spanish, don’t be suprised when the people you are supporting decide you arn’t any better than the “illegal immigrants” they hate. You’re next, mom.

  8. As a Latina whose parents immigrated here legally over 50 years ago and actually are grateful for the opportunities they had to achieve the American Dream, I am here to say that mainstream Americans of Hispanic descent are opposed to illegal immigration, want to see immigration reduced and do not favor amnesty in the form of any rewards of benefits and privileges of citizenship to illegal aliens. Our families played by the rules, often waiting years outside of the country (where the line begins) to immigrate here legally. We expect everyone else to play by the rules no matter their country of origin. As a mother of four, I have taught my children to patiently wait in line, wait their turn, be a gracious guest. One does not force their way into a “by invitation only” party w/o an invitation, demand to sit at the head table, be served first, insult the hosts, disrupt the event, complain about what a horrible time they are having and then demand to be invited back as part of the host’s family.

    It is not racist in any sense and none of my Hispanic friends, family believe it that it is so, to expect people to respect the customs, laws, rules and norms of this nation. If you choose to reside, work and/or study in this country you MUST learn English.It is the language for success in this country. If you are multi-lingual, great! But you must learn English, it’s required for citizenship. 51 nations in the world make ENGLISH their official language, 31 make English their SOLE official language including the Phillipines, Singapore and India. Why not the USA, why not PA?

    Illegal aliens commit the felonies of document fraud every single day. It’s a felony to fraudulently obtain or use another’s social security number, it’s a felony to obtain fraudulent numbers/official government identifications. It’s a felony to obtain driver’s licenses, illegal employment, social services, benefits, etc. through the use of forged, fraudulent or fraudulently obtained identity documents like social security cards, green cards, passports, driver’s licenses, etc. Have any of you been a victim of identity theft and have had to go through the extreme hassle of dealing with that? Does it warm your heart if you knew it was just an “illegal alien” who ruined your credit, and made a mess of your financial life?

  9. I contacted PHRC while I was being publicly harassed by my supervisor at PA Labor and Industry, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation regarding:
    – supervisory requirement to falsify OVR closure statistic
    – public supervisory harassment to “straighten up, get back with the Roman Catholic church, and get married,” “not touch (other people) because (I) might have ‘the AIDS’,” and remarks commingling my Polish ancestry with my sexual preference

    I was instructed to file a complaint with my union, PSSU, which did nothing.

    PHRC said “This is a ‘gay’ issue, and we have no rules about that.”

    I asked them if I was the only person hearing “Roman Catholic” among the things I should be to remain employed. No answer.

    Eventually, I was fired without cause or appeal rights for those complaints.

    After being fired, PHRC told me that my unemployment disqualified me for services regarding that termination.


    I filed complaints with PHRC, some with Mr. Glassman personally, regarding the non-provision of “timely, appropriate vocational rehabilitation services” from the agency that CAUSED the whole mess in the first place.

    Mr. Glassman personally advised me that PHRC would not help me.

    In the meantime, every state agency to which I applied for services found that OVR had created an “abnormal working conditon” and that I should not have been fired.

    They compensated me with the replacement of lost wages.

    Three issues are pending regarding OVR’s non-provision of services.

    Since I have NEVER had any access to established appeal processes regarding this matter, I had to think outside the box.

    In short, PHRC is worthless, and Steve Glassman does NOT help.

    See YouTube submission:

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