2011-06-02 / Local & State

Bills Targeting Illegal Immigrants Move To House

By Peter Jackson

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Supporters of Republican bills to tighten access to public benefits and hiring by contractors for state and local governments say the legislation would keep out illegal immigrants, but the American Civil Liberties Union says the bills are more likely to cause headaches for Pennsylvanians who are in the United States legally.

“A lot of people who are marginalized and living in poverty are increasingly feeling like they are under siege by their state government,’’ Andy Hoover of the Pennsylvania ACLU said Friday.

The bills, which were approved by the Senate this week and await action by the House, are among several pending measures that target illegal immigrants. Nearly every state is considering similar bills in the absence of congressional action on the immigration issue.

A bill sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R- Jefferson, would require most people seeking welfare, health care and other public benefits to show a driver’s license, U.S. passport or some other form of identification and sign affidavits attesting that they are U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Applicants who indicate on the affidavit that they are legal residents would be verified against the federal SAVE system – for Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlement Program – maintained by the Department of Homeland Security.

People who lie about their status on their affidavit could be convicted of a second degree misdemeanor and face deportation.

Scarnati said the bill is in response to what he views as the Obama administration’s failure to deal with the nation’s illegal immigration problem. He acknowledged federal law bars illegal immigrants from receiving federal, state or local benefits except for emergency medical care, necessary immunizations and disaster relief, but said current state law is too weak to enforce those provisions.

“ Once again, states across the country are finding themselves dealing with federal issues that are hurting the taxpayers of their respective areas,’’ said Scarnati, the Senate’s ranking Republican. The bill “is a matter of protecting citizens who are in Pennsylvania legally and encouraging illegal aliens to locate elsewhere.’’

Hoover said the reliance on government-issued forms of identification in Scarnati’s bill would create a hardship for many American-born citizens who have lost or never had those documents. Valuable safety- net services could be withheld from those people during the time-consuming process of obtaining new or replacement cards, he said.

“This isn’t an immigration issue at all,’’ he said.

Hoover commended Scarnati for providing exceptions in the bill for certain people, including minors, people on Medicare and those who have lost their identification documents because of domestic abuse.

The other bill, sponsored by Sen. Kim Ward, would require contractors and subcontractors on public works projects financed by the state, county or municipal governments to confirm their employees’ status on the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify system and file verification statements with the public agency that is paying for the work.

On Thursday, in a ruling legal analysts predicted would prompt more states to require employers to use E-Verify, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld an Arizona law that imposes that requirement and penalizes business that hire workers in the country illegally.

Ward, R-Westmoreland, said the high court’s 5-3 ruling was “ clear- cut’’ and “takes the legs out from some of those arguments’’ raised by critics of her bill.

Under Ward’s bill, contractors and subcontractors that violate the law for the first time would be subject to a written warning from the secretary of the state Labor Department that would be posted on the department’s website. Subsequent violations could results in fines or contract terminations.

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