On Tuesday, August 29th, the General Assembly met to hear testimony regarding the 14-bill package entitled, “National Security Begins at Home”, which Representative Metcalfe (R-12), introduced this session. Included in this horrendous package are bills such as, HB 738 and HB 801, which require police officers to check the immigration status of those who are stopped if the officer “suspects” the person/people of being in the US unlawfully (a sure recipe for racial profiling), HB 858, which mandates that all private businesses use the imperfect E-Verify system, and HB 474 and HB 857, which directly evade the 14thAmendment’s constitutional citizenship provision, guaranteeing citizenship to children born in the United States.
These are just five of the 14 bills introduced. Many of the bills have eerily similar text as the Arizona, “papers please” legislation that is currently being appealed in federal court.
Some members of the legislature want Pennsylvania to become the sixth state to pass legislation like Arizona’s “papers, please” law that limits the rights of immigrants and PA citizens alike, and the previous five states are currently in court defending their laws. None of the five states have been able to implement their laws.
In fact, most of these issues are not for the state to legislate, but rather, they are the federal government’s responsibility.
Prior to the hearings, a press conference was held with a variety of speakers who adamantly oppose this bill package. Representative Tony Payton of Philadelphia finished his speech by stating, “If you don’t have any ideas to help the economy, say so. Don’t keep using distractions, such as this.” The many who opposed the bills stood in the background holding signs, as different men and women spoke against the bills. Representative Eddie Day Pashinski ofLuzerne County also spoke in opposition of the legislative package. He commented on the necessity of immigration in our nation’s history and concluded with, “I stand with you for fairness.”
Although the two-day House State Government Committee hearings had an unequal amount of representation from those opposing (Chairman Metcalfe allowed four pro-immigration speakers and nine anti-immigration speakers), the hearings were chocked-full with extremely unscientific data against the bills with the occasional question from legislators of why illegal immigration was even a topic that needed to be discussed by the PA General Assembly.
Former Pennsylvania State Representative John Stahl spoke on behalf of the legislation package representing the Tea Party. Stahl began his presentation (I cannot bring myself to call his words testimony) by stating that illegal immigration is “destroying every institution of our nation”. Most, if not all, of his statements were based on self-admitted “guesses” and the individuals that he interviewed. Stahl claimed that “illegal aliens collect more than I do on Social Security,” illegal immigrants take “$40 to 65 billion” out of the Pennsylvania economy, and mentioned a store owner who based his opinions on whether his customers were illegal or not on their mastering of the English language (not to mention that his written testimony puts customer in quotation marks, as if people who do not speak English could not be given the same title as others who use this particular person’s services).
Directly after Stahl’s performance, Pamela Linares told her story about the immigration process she had to go through in the US. Linares spoke about coming from Bolivia when she was only eight months old, and her struggle growing up without papers. Her story was incredibly moving and the room was intently listening to a storythat is common among immigrants. Linares’ parents went to a lawyer while on their Visa. The lawyer took the money but did not deliver any of the proper documents to the government. It was only years later that the family found out about this, and because of the error, they were denied legal status for years.
Kay Hollabaugh represented Hollabaugh Bros. Fruit Farm and Market in Biglerville, Pennsylvania. Hollabaugh explained that she would not have any workers if this legislative package were passed, due to the problems with E-Verify, and the need for immigrant workers. She mentioned one of the farmers she had spoken with in Arizona who is now paying workers in cash because of the difficulties of E-Verify. As a small business owner, the Members asked her plenty of questions about her farm and the actual use of immigrant workers. Hollabaugh ended her testimony stating, “I want legal workers, and I want to pick the crops”.
Jessica Wood, ACLU-PA communications intern, Harrisburg