HARRISBURG -- State Reps. Daryl Metcalfe and Harry Readshaw think Pennsylvania should follow Arizona's lead and "protect its borders and citizens" by giving local and state police more power to arrest, detain and eventually deport foreigners who have entered the state illegally and don't have proper registration papers.
Mr. Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, Mr. Readshaw, D-Carrick, and several other legislators Tuesday promoted House Bill 2479, which would direct a police officer "to attempt to verify the immigration status of suspected illegal aliens."
However, an officer could not stop a suspected illegal immigrant without reason -- as critics of the new Arizona law have claimed, Mr. Metcalfe said. An officer would have to have a reason for checking a suspected illegal alien's papers, such as if the alien was driving too fast, ran a red light or was arrested for a break-in.
The bill also would create a new third-degree misdemeanor "for illegal aliens who violate federal law by either willfully failing to register as an alien or failing to possess proper proof of such registration when stopped for another primary offense, such as a traffic violation."
The bill also would attempt to crack down on employers who hire illegal aliens without first checking to see if they had registration papers and are in the state legally. It would create a new third-class felony "for intentionally smuggling illegal aliens (into the state) for profit" and would let police officers "impound any vehicle driven by an illegal alien or used to transport illegal aliens."
Critics of the bill, such as Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, said immigration enforcement is a federal job, done by the Immigration, Customs and Enforcement agency. "State and local police are not charged with enforcing federal immigration legislation."
But Mr. Metcalfe said federal authorities have done a poor job of finding and deporting illegal immigrants and the state has the right to defend itself, as Arizona is doing.
It's difficult to know how many illegal immigrants are in Pennsylvania at any one time, but Mr. Metcalfe put the estimate at 140,000. He maintained they are costing state taxpayers at least $700 million a year in unnecessary costs for educating the children of illegal immigrants plus costs of welfare benefits, jail cells, health care, day care and food stamps.
Mr. Readshaw said he's glad that other legislators are finally "taking notice and taking a stand and working to cut back on the serious financial drain that illegal aliens cause to Pennsylvania taxpayers every year."
He has a related measure, House Bill 1184, that would require anyone seeking public assistance, such as cash assistance, Medicaid or college tuition help, to sign a sworn statement and provide proof that he or she is a U.S. citizen or an alien living here legally.
A number of conservative groups support the Metcalfe immigration bill, including the Eagle Forum, the Federal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Coalition and the Citizens for Immigration Control. An official of CIC, Kathleen Appell, said, "We wish Gov. (Ed) Rendell would 'woman up' and display Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer's courage (in signing such a law) but we know that won't happen."
Mr. Rendell said he hadn't read the Metcalfe bill, "but if it's the same as the Arizona law, I would veto it." He said the Arizona law has even been criticized by staunch conservatives such as Karl Rove, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, and former Colorado GOP Congressman Tom Tancredo.
Some critics have claimed the Arizona law promotes "profiling" and prejudice against certain racial and ethnic groups, Hispanics in particular, but Mr. Metcalfe denied that. He said Pennsylvania has a right to protect itself against drugs, thefts, killings and other illegal activities perpetrated by immigrants who sneak into the state illegally.
But Andrew Hoover of the American Civil Liberties Union said Pennsylvania shouldn't copy the Arizona law.
"What happens in Arizona stays in Arizona," he said. "The new Arizona law encourages racial profiling and betrays American values. We don't need that here in Pennsylvania."
Bureau Chief Tom Barnes: email@example.com or 1-717-787-4254.