Saturday, October 1, 2011

'National Security Begins at Home' bills would exact economic, moral costs

Tuesday and Wednesday of the coming week, the Pa. House State Government Committee will be voting on a package of 14 anti-immigrant bills known collectively as the "National Security Begins at Home" package (House Bills 41, 355, 439, 474, 738, 799, 801, 809, 810, 856, 857, 858, and 865 Senate Bill 9). The bills propose changes to existing commonwealth codes and the institution of laws that range from the ill-considered to the downright nefarious.

The House Committee heard testimony from organizations and businesses opposing "National Security Begins at Home" at the end of August. Among those testifying: the Anti-Defamation League, the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, the Lutheran Advocacy Ministry, the Service Employees International Union, Community Legal Services of Pennsylvania and business owners highlighting different aspects of the proposed bill package they oppose.

Mark Shea, the administrator of Immigration Services for Catholic Social Services in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia who spoke for the Catholic bishops of the Commonwealth, called out HB 738, section 9 (a & b): "We object to any law that treats the actions of men and women to sustain themselves and their families through employment as 'criminal.'" Of HB 738, section 5 (5): "We object to any law that encourages racial profiling by permitting warrantless arrests based on probable cause that an individual is 'removable from the United States.'" Of HB 738, Section 2(4): "We object to any policy of 'attrition through enforcement.'"

"Undocumented immigrants in Pennsylvania are not responsible for any generalized 'lawlessness' in our communities," Shea said, "and for the bill's drafters to make such unsubstantiated claims merely contributes to a poisonous rhetoric that stereotypes undocumented individuals as criminals.... Immigrants do not fail to become citizens because they are lazy or inclined to criminality. Poverty, war and desperation in their home countries drive them here. Then our federal government provides no way for the majority of them to attain legal status."

The Lutheran Advocacy Ministry called out HB 857 and HB 474 saying that, "denying U.S. citizenship to newborn babies - one of the most vulnerable groups among us - runs counter to our biblical mandate to care for sojourners in our midst and denies them their fundamental right of human dignity ... Changing our current policy would undermine American values of equality, unnecessarily hurt children and families, and leave our immigration system more broken than it was in the first place."

Further, the Lutheran Advocacy testimony states, HB 738, 355 and the other proposed enforcement measures "originate from assumptions about immigrants and immigrant communities that have little footing in reality, the notion that 'immigration leads to an increase in crime and violence' being a case in point."

Both the SEIU and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia called out bills in the package that require use of specific forms of government-issued identification for receipt of public benefits. According to the Community Legal Services testimony, the measure will "unintentionally block an estimated 500,000 low-income United States citizens in Pennsylvania from accessing critical public benefits which they are eligible to receive." What's more, according to Community Legal Services, "the proponents of these bills have failed to show documented evidence of a widespread problem of ineligible immigrants receiving benefits."Regarding House bills 355, 439, 738 (sections 6 & 9), 798, 856 and 865, Community Legal Services' testimony states (emphasis mine):

"These bills create an assortment of criminal and civil penalties for employers, municipalities, and individuals who work with undocumented immigrants. As in other states, these bills are likely to be found largely unconstitutional and will lead to costly legal challenges. While they are in effect, they will subject businesses to costly requirements and potentially harassing litigation. As well, they would punish entire municipalities and all individuals living in them if critical services such as soup kitchens and domestic violence shelters provide services without regard for immigration status. They would also create tens of millions of dollars in unfunded mandates to municipalities and state agencies without an increase in the health, safety, or welfare of the city. Finally, they would subject lawfully resident individuals to illegal racial profiling, creating a community of fear among immigrants."

Businessman John Rice, of the Rice Fruit Company, with operations in Adams County, Pa., gave testimony of the economic impact the package of bills would have. "We do not need laws that would punish honest fruit growers for hiring the only workers that are available to harvest their crops. We do not need laws that would treat these workers as criminals to be identified, jailed and deported. It doesn't make sense. We need laws that would create a guest worker program here so that these people could come here legally and do the jobs that no one else wants ... They should be brought out from the shadow economy and treated with respect."

In his testimony Rice also stated that though his company doesn't directly employ immigrant employees in his packing house, some of the farms that supply him with fruit do, and he is "very afraid that the legislative package that you (the House Committee) will be considering at these hearings could put my company out of business."

His fears are not unfounded, if Alabama and Georgia farmers' experiences with similar laws can be taken as example. (Click here and here and here to read about impact of Alabama's more recent laws; here and here and here to read about the impact of Georgia's law, enacted in June.)

Stating your opposition to the Pennsylvania "National Security Begins at Home" bill package is easy, the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizen Coalition provides a page where you can contact your representatives and senators directly (click here to go to it).

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