Friday, December 11, 2009

The PA legislature, where shooting "the illegals" passes as humor

It's hard to believe that in this economic climate that any policy maker would have the audacity to pass a bill to actually hurt workers. But there are some Pennsylvania representatives who are trying to do just that.

On Tuesday, the PA House Labor Relations Committee unanimously passed House Bill 1502 and House Bill 1503. HB 1502 would require state contractors to use the federal E-Verify program, and HB 1503 would require all PA construction companies to use it. E-Verify is a database program that, in theory, is supposed to verify that a worker is eligible to work by verifying the worker's Social Security number.

But here's the rub: E-Verify is loaded with errors. Millions of errors. And the errors disproportionately affect foreign-born workers who are naturalized citizens and legal residents who are eligible to work. It's not just advocates saying this. The federal government itself, which runs the program, has admitted that E-Verify has millions of errors. The National Immigration Law Center has a great fact sheet (pdf) that lays out the problems.

Opponents of HBs 1502 and 1503 are some real heavyweights- the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Service Employees International Union of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and, of course, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. Despite the persuasive arguments against the bills from these groups, not one rep- Republican or Democrat- raised a voice of protest at the committee meeting.

How fitting that just the week before the Fiscal Policy Institute released the results of a study that showed that immigrants contribute to GDP at a rate roughly proportional to their percentage of population. The study found that immigrants make up about 3 percent of the population of metro Pittsburgh and 4 percent of GDP. Foreign-born residents are responsible for 9 percent of the population of metro Philadelphia and 10 percent of GDP.

The lowlight came toward the end of the meeting when committee chair Rep. Robert Belfanti joked about well-known anti-immigrant Rep. Daryl Metcalfe introducing an amendment to "shoot the illegals." This drew laughter from quite a few folks in the room. I just rolled my eyes toward the ceiling and thought, 'Am I really in the middle of this nightmare?' Poor Emma Cleveland, our new immigration community organizer. I invited her to Harrisburg for the committee vote, her first trip to the state capitol. I think she's been traumatized. She called the scene "surreal."

We haven't stopped fighting. We are still hopeful that we can stop this blatantly anti-worker legislation before it becomes law. A lot of working people are counting on us.

Andy in Harrisburg

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