Friday, August 26, 2011

Testimony Opposing Anti-Immigration Bills

On Monday, August 22, 2011, I submitted written testimony to the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee and asked if I could speak at the hearing on August 30 before the committee when they hold hearings on the so-called “National Security Begins at Home” package of anti-immigrant bills.  I received an email from a Republican majority staff member telling me that my written testimony was accepted but that I would not be allowed to speak at all during the hearing.  As noted in my previous blog posting the Pennsylvania Immigrant and Citizenship Coalition's media advisory about a press conference to be held just before the hearings start on Tuesday, August 30,
"Unfortunately, the list of witnesses for the hearing has been limited, preventing many sound practical, legal, and moral arguments against this legislation from being heard."

 I was later told that this "limited" list of witnesses is only for people and organizations opposing this bill: only four witnesses selected by the Democratic side of the committee will be allowed to speak over the two days of hearings.

So after some thought, I decided to post my entire letter to the committee for you to read.  Please review.  Call and write your legislator.  Tell him/her to turn their attention away from divisive proposals that threaten to harm vulnerable Pennsylvanians - particularly women and children, waste taxpayer dollars and embroil our Commonwealth in burdensome lawsuits; instead, tell them to put the focus back on creating jobs and growing our economy.

Now, here's Pennsylvania NOW's testimony on these anti-immigration bills:

Pennsylvania NOW, Inc.
PO Box 68
Bellefonte, PA 16823-0068
Phone: 814-280-8571
Fax: 814-355-3057


· · ·

Susan Boyle
Republican House Committee Legislative Staff
41B East Wing
Capital Building
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Dear Ms. Boyle:

We are writing on behalf of the approximately 14,000 dues paying members and contributors to the National Organization for Women in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania NOW, Inc. is the statewide chapter that works to bring about full equal rights for all women. We are writing you to express our opposition to several of the anti-immigration bills before the House of Representatives that will be heard during this hearing on August 30.  We understand that the following bills are likely to be covered during this hearing  (listed by Name, Bill Number, Prime Sponsor, and the current status of each bill)

·         Identification of Lawful Presence Bills
o   SB 9 / Scarnati / Passed Senate and Referred to Committee on State Government

o   HB 41 / Marsico / Referred to Committee on State Government

o   Arizona Model Legislation/ HB 738/ Metcalfe/ Referred to Committee on State Government

·         Penalties and Duties of Agencies / HB 355 / Readshaw / Re-referred to State Government

·         License Revocation / HB 439 / Mustio / Re-referred to Committee on State Government

·         State Compact/ HB 474/ Cox/ Referred to Committee on State Government

·         Criminal Records / HB 798 / Creighton / Referred to Committee on State Government

·         Memorandum of Understanding / HB 799 / Creighton/ Referred to Committee on State Government

·         Power of Law Enforcement/ HB 801/ Creighton/ Referred to Committee on State Government

·         Sanctuary Bills

o   Sanctuary Cities Funding/ HB 810/ Perry/ Referred to Committee on State Government

o   Sanctuary Cities Victims / HB 865 / Knowles / Re-referred to State Government

·         Smuggling of Human Beings/ HB 856/ Kauffman/ Re-referred to Committee on State Government

·         “Commonwealth Citizenship Act” / HB 857/ Metcalfe/ Re-referred to Committee on State Government

·         E-verification / HB 858 / Metcalfe / Re-referred to Committee on State Government

We oppose all of these bills in general as they are an immigration-enforcement only form of legislation and do not take into account the disparate impact these laws would have on all residents – documented and undocumented.  They also impose new burdens on our workers, businesses, and the economy in general.  Women and children, in many of these bills, would also be even more harshly hit.  The following is a selective review of a few of these bills and why we believe that these particular bills would most harshly impact women and children here in Pennsylvania.
Identification Bills

There are two types of bills dealing with identification issues.  One deals with employment and obtaining forms of identification.  The other type deals with access to public benefits.
HB 858 requires all Pennsylvania employers to enroll in the federal E-Verify program to confirm employee Social Security numbers.  It also denies any form of registration (including driver’s licenses) to individuals who cannot prove that they are legal residents of the US.  This bill could cause serious problems for victims fleeing domestic violence situations without any identification.

Senate Bill 9 and House Bills 41 and 738 require individuals to produce a government-issued form of identification to prove their lawful presence in Pennsylvania in order to receive either public benefits or benefits from non-profit agencies who receive any funding from the state.  Senate Bill 9 is the furthest along in the legislative process; it has passed out of the Senate and is currently in the State House Government Committee.HB 738 is modeled on Arizona’s Anti-Immigration law.  All three will tie up government programs, cost the state millions of dollars, further hurt our fragile economy, and place the lives of women and children in danger. 
Both SB 9 and HB 41 require identification for “lawful presence” in the United States as a prerequisite to the receipt of public benefits.  Among the restrictions are denial of any benefit that the state or local government provides including, in the case of HB 41, access to any local food banks & “services provided to women, infants, & children through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants & Children” (WIC).  (Let’s starve the kids!). Both also require that the identification be verified through the flawed federal Homeland Security’s “Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlement (SAVE)” database.

HB 738 is much broader then either SB 9 and HB 41 and as previously stated, mirrors much of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070.  It has several sections.  First, like SB 9 and HB 41, it requires all agencies and municipalities to verify that applicants for public benefits are either US citizens or lawful immigrants. This applies to applicants for Federal, State, or local public benefits programs. All other applicants not exempt would have to sign an affidavit swearing lawful immigration status, subject to verification through the flawed Systematic Alien Verification of Entitlement Program.  Second, it fines officials, agencies, and municipalities for failure to enforce the law. Third, it makes it a crime to be undocumented. Forth, it penalizes employers who hire undocumented workers. And fifth, it allows police to seize any vehicle they suspect might be used for transporting undocumented workers. 
These bills all rely on the use of the flawed federal E-verify system

According to the National Immigration Law Center, there is an error rate of between 0.08 and 2.3 percent in verification of employment eligibility for documenting immigrants’ legal status in the US.  Nationally, that means that with an estimated 60,000,000 new hires each year, somewhere between 480,000 and 1,300,000 legal immigrants and US citizens will be flagged as undocumented[1].  According to the 2010 Census, 4.2 percent of the total adult US population reside in Pennsylvania.[2] Assume for a moment that 4.2 percent or 2,425,000 of these new hires occur in Pennsylvania each year. That means for employment searches alone, an estimated total of between 1,940 and 55,775 legal residents will likely be flagged as undocumented.  This number will be even higher if the E-verify system is used not only for employment but for access to public benefits.   And  this number will be higher once the state attempts to verify children as well as adults.
The lack of ids will tie up programs. 

Requiring an individual to either produce a government id and/or to be verified through the flawed E-verify system will tie up programs at great expense to the state and to individuals who need access to services.  On March 1, 2011, the Women’s Law Project and Community Legal Services along with 24 other organizations submitted testimony to the Pennsylvania Senate regarding the government identification requirements found in SB 9.  Their concerns, in our opinion, also apply to these other bills as well.
In that letter, they point out that a government issued photo id may be hard to obtain. That could be due to the need for having other forms of government id, such as a birth certificate.  For example, a birth certificate to prove birth in the United States can take time to obtain so that you can then obtain a picture id, such as a driver’s license or a passport.  People who have lost their original birth certificate or who have no access to their documentation—such as domestic violence victims who have fled their violent homes without any identification or for people who have lost all of their belongings in a disaster--could result in delays that they cannot wait for.  In addition, people without personal transport could be further delayed by not being able to travel to a photo id center to obtain a photo id.

Beside the complications in obtaining government issued photo ids proving a legal basis for being in the United States, there is the additional cost for setting up and maintaining these identification programs.  This can cause financial problems to the state in addition to delaying the distribution of needed benefits to documented individuals.  For example, Colorado reported that the state incurred over $2,000,000 in additional costs in the first year of full implementation of their photo-id law and Governor Rendell’s administration estimated that implementing the photo id requirements for the Unemployment Compensation program alone that is required by SB 9 would cost an additional $20,000,000. [3]
These bills will endanger lives.

According to the New York University’s Law School’s Brennen Center for Justice[4], about 11 percent of all US Citizens do not have a government-issued id.  That number rises to 15 percent for low-income families who would most likely need the public benefits covered under these bills.

Women are more likely than men to have problems providing proof of citizenship.  According to this same study, one-third of women 18 and older, one-quarter of African-Americans, and 16 percent of Latinas and Latinos do not have ready access to citizenship papers – passports, naturalization papers, and/or birth certificates.  And for those with some form of citizenship papers in their possession, 10 percent do not have the paperwork to show both their current name and current address. This number rises to 18 percent for adults ages 18-24; this younger cohort include lower-income individuals who are more likely to be parents with young children that need time-critical public benefits.

In Pennsylvania in 2007, nearly 1.4 million Pennsylvanians, or almost 12 percent, were living below poverty. It is estimated that over 806,000 (approximately 58 percent) of these individuals were female[5].  Given that females are more likely than males to live below the poverty line and are thus more likely to need access to public services, this requirement for identification could endanger their and their families’ lives.   

Additionally, women who have been made homeless (92 percent of homeless women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives[6]) or who are fleeing domestic violence and leave without any documentation are particularly vulnerable.  Yet only SB 9 mentions an exemption to providing documentation for domestic violence victims if they sign an affidavit of domestic violence.  Homeless victims who have an even more desperate life and are in need of services may not have either the ability to or the knowledge of how to obtain either this needed identification or this limited exemption from having this form of identification.  And since they have no permanent domicile, obtaining a photo id with a current address is not likely to happen.

HB 738 additionally relies on racial Profiling

In addition to the general concerns about all of these identification bills, we have an additional concern about HB 738.  In addition to the id requirements, it allows police officers to stop and seize any vehicle they suspect might be used for transporting undocumented workers.  Like with HB 856, this section of the bill relies on illegal racial profiling.
This bill allows police officers to stop any vehicle driven by someone they think might be transporting undocumented workers if “reasonable suspicion” exists. What determines  “reasonable suspicion?”  Since September 11, 2001, Arabs, Muslims, and Hispanics have most often been the targets of suspicion either due to the belief that all Arabs and Muslims are or could be terrorists OR the belief that the majority of undocumented people are of Hispanic origin[7].  This form of “reasonable suspicion” results in victimization of the innocent who are not involved in trafficking.  This profiling also fails to actually find and prosecute individuals themselves who do not fit the profile of undocumented foreigner.

Commonwealth Citizenship Act

HB 857 seeks to prevent automatic citizenship for children born in the US to undocumented aliens.  It denies citizenship rights within the border of Pennsylvania to any child born anywhere in the US whose parents are not either citizens of the US or who are not legal resident aliens that now reside in Pennsylvania.  This bill on its face is unconstitutional as it violates the 14th amendment to the US Constitution.  The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 and guarantees that all children born in the United States (with minor exceptions for children of foreign diplomats and invading forces) are citizens.  Since it is the US and not states that grant citizenship, Pennsylvania cannot deny benefits to citizens, even if they have undocumented parents.
The 14th Amendment is a cornerstone of the movement for civil rights for all (it is partially the basis for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act in addition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the American with Disabilities Act of 1992, etc.) and it has played a critical role in our country’s cultural diversity. 

Limiting the scope of the 14th amendment by denying citizenship as defined in HB 857 will actually make things worse by increasing the number of undocumented immigrants and will create “significant bureaucratic and financial burdens” for all Americans. A panel at the Center for American Progress listed these burdens if the Citizenship Clause were revoked at the federal level or ignored via legislation at the state level.  They stated[8] that:
  1. “A large, new and expensive federal bureaucracy [would be needed] to investigate the citizenship status of parents before birth certificates could be issued to their newborn children.”  Since birth certificates are issued by states, Pennsylvania would have to greatly increase funding for the Department of Health to work with the federal government to ensure that at least one parent is a US Citizen before issuing the birth certificate

2.      The departments of State and Homeland Security – which routinely charge fees for immigrant visas and related services – could charge parents up to $600 to verify the legal status of each birth. And the verification process itself could also take weeks, months or even years.  This long delay and high cost to low-income individuals could jeopardize the lives of these children/adults due to the delay in verification; and

3.      “Repealing or limiting the scope of the Citizenship Clause would blur the line between who is a citizen and who is not, creating a U.S. caste system that would forever relegate those deemed to be of lesser status from fully participating and contributing to our nation.” 
Smuggling of Human Beings (aka Human Trafficking)
HB 856 is an amendment to 18 Pa. C.S. (Statute on Trafficking of Human Beings) that creates a third degree felony for people who knowingly or recklessly transport undocumented workers for profit or commercial purpose.  It adds a clause similar to the one proposed in HB 738 that allows police officers to stop any driver of a vehicle that they have “reasonable suspicion” of transporting undocumented workers. 

Women coerced into sex work, domestic workers and agricultural workers who are forced into unpaid or underpaid labor, and commercially sexually-exploited children, are the most common victims of human trafficking.  According to the Polaris Project,  Victims of human trafficking in the United States include U.S. citizens or foreign nationals, adults or minors, and men or women. Foreign-born victims in the U.S. may be either documented or undocumented.[9]
This bill makes two assumptions about human trafficking.  The first false assumption is that human trafficking is another word for human smuggling.  In fact, they are two separate federal crimes.  Smuggling requires illegal border crossing.  Human trafficking is a crime against a person who has been induced or forced into commercial sex acts or labor whether or not transportation is involved.  The second false assumption is that foreign national trafficking victims are always undocumented and are here in this country illegally.  Foreign nationals can be here in the United States either legally or illegally. A significant percentage of trafficked victims, according to the Polaris Project, are here legally and are documented.  To quote the Polaris Project, “Human trafficking encompasses both transnational trafficking that crosses borders and domestic or internal trafficking that occurs within a country.[10]

The statistics on human trafficking are scare, particularly for domestic trafficking.  And what statistics are available are often contradictory due to the covert nature of the crime, the very high levels of underreporting, the invisibility of victims, inconsistent definitions (including assumptions that trafficking is only an international issue), and the lack of data collection and research on this issue, particularly for domestic adult trafficking.  Of the statistics available, 53 percent of adult victims and 66 percent of child victims of trafficking are female.  And it is estimated that between 100,000 and 300,000 children from within the borders of the US are victims of prostitution.[11]
These statistics indicate that focusing on human trafficking by creating a law that allows police officers to stop any vehicle driven by someone they think might be transporting undocumented workers does not really deal with the terrible problem of human trafficking. Rather it is another civil rights violation through the use of racial profiling. 

What determines  “reasonable suspicion?”  Since September 11, 2001, Arabs, Muslims, and Hispanics have most often been the targets of suspicion either due to the belief that all Arabs and Muslims are or could be terrorists OR the belief that the majority of undocumented people are of Hispanic origin[12].  This form of “reasonable suspicion” results in victimization of the innocent who are not involved in trafficking.  This profiling also fails to actually find and prosecute traffickers who do not fit the profile of undocumented foreigner.
The current state law on human trafficking combined with the federal laws will not be improved by this bill. Although it might catch some traffickers, it will harm others who are innocent of this crime and will not deal at all with domestic trafficking. 

Putting further emphasis on enforcing the current law—18 Pa. C.S. (Statute on Trafficking of Human Beings—as well as passing two other bills before the General Assembly would improve the lives of victims of human trafficking. We urge you to pass HB 235. It mandates the posting of the National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, in key locations throughout the state to provide assistance, tip reporting and training on human trafficking to victims, community members & law enforcement.  We also encourage you to have the Senate consider and pass SB 885 and send it to you for consideration and passage.  This bill amends Section 3002(a) of 18 Pa. C.S. to allow prostitution convictions to be vacated if the woman (or man) can show that the arrest occurred while being a victim of sex trafficking.  Both of these bills would give police access to information about real human traffickers rather than having them rely on inaccurate and illegal racial profiling.
Thank you for taking time to listen to our concerns on these bills.  We look forward to your response to our concerns. 

Joanne L. Tosti-Vasey, Ph.D.
Pennsylvania NOW, Inc.

Cc: Amy Hockenberry (;  Elizabeth Sickler (; Cathy Wadding (, and Kim Hileman (

[1] Moran, Tyler (June 11, 2011).  Statement of Tyler Moran, Policy Director, National Immigration Law Center to the US House Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement: Hearing on the Legal Workforce Act.  Retrieved August 21, 2011 from
[3] Women’s Law Project (March 1, 2011).  Advocates letter to PA Senate Opposing SB9. Retrieved August 21, 2011 from
[4] Brennen Center for Justice (November 2006). Citizens Without Proof. Retrieved August 22, 2011 from
[5] Pennsylvania Commission for Women (2009). The status of Pennsylvania women report 2009.  Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Commission for Women.
[6] Pennsylvania Commission for Women (2009). The status of Pennsylvania women report 2009.  Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Commission for Women
[7] Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund (no date). Wrong then, wrong now: Racial profiling before and after September 11, 2001. Retrieved August 22, 2011 from
[8] Azcona, Sergio (May 12, 2011).  Repeal of Citizenship Clause Would Carry Heavy Consequences.  Retrieved August 22, 2011 from
[9] Polaris Project (no date).  Human Trafficking.  Retrieved August 22, 2011 from
[10] Polaris Project (no date).  Common myths and misconceptions about human trafficking in the US.  Retrieved August 22, 2011 from
[12] Leadership Conference on Civil Rights Education Fund (no date). Wrong then, wrong now: Racial profiling before and after September 11, 2001. Retrieved August 22, 2011 from