HARRISBURG — Take the handcuffs off police and put them on illegal aliens in Pennsylvania, who cost taxpayers $728 million a year for education, health care and incarceration, advocates for tougher laws said Tuesday.
Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Cranberry says it’s time to give illegal aliens living in Pennsylvania two choices: Leave or go to jail. He patterned a bill introduced yesterday after a controversial Arizona law enacted last month by that state’s governor, Jan Brewer.
But Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, said if Metcalfe’s proposal is “a mirror image of Arizona’s, I’d veto it.” Rendell leaves office in January, and the bill would start anew in Pennsylvania’s year-round Legislature.
Rendell didn’t elaborate, but critics of the Arizona bill claim it encourages “racial profiling,” which Metcalfe denies.
Since 2005, the number of bills filed and laws enacted by state governments on immigration problems has increased, said Ann Morse, an official who handles immigration issues for the National Conference of State Legislatures. Law enforcement issues are among the top three topics addressed, she said.
In 2009, 48 states enacted 222 laws and 131 resolutions on immigration issues. In the first quarter of 2010, they introduced 1,180 bills and resolutions.
Since the Arizona bill became law, South Carolina introduced a similar measure, according to NCSL. Thirty states’ legislative sessions are over. Some states are watching results of four lawsuits filed over Arizona’s law, Morse said.
Each Pennsylvania household pays about $150 a year for education, incarceration and health care costs of illegal aliens, according to a study by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR. That tab totals $728 million annually in Pennsylvania to cover costs of an estimated 144,000 illegal aliens, the study says.
Dan Stein, president of the nonprofit that claims 250,000 supporters nationwide, attended the news conference where Metcalfe announced his bill. Stein said it is the federal government’s role to enforce immigration laws, but it doesn’t do so. States are acting because “year after year, the federal government has failed in its mission: to enforce these laws.”
The Metcalfe bill aims to provide state and local law enforcement officers the authority to round up illegal aliens — those who can’t offer proof of legal residency — when stopped for a primary offense, such as a traffic violation.
Under the bill, it would be a crime for an illegal alien to apply for work. Someone who smuggles or transports illegal aliens also would be committing a crime.
The goal is “attrition through enforcement,” Metcalfe said.
The Arizona law “could encourage racial profiling of individuals and create unfair investigations,” said Montgomery County Democrat Sen. Daylin Leach.
Leach filed a separate bill that says no state or local law enforcement agency has power or obligation to enforce or investigate federal immigration law.
Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, criticized Metcalfe’s bill, saying: “The commonwealth’s law enforcement officers have a challenge in keeping our communities safe. Asking them to enforce federal immigration law ties their hands behind their back and makes their job more difficult.”
Hoover added: “If immigrants feel they can’t trust the police, victimization increases and our streets aren’t safe.”
Rep. Harry Readshaw, a Carrick Democrat, backed Metcalfe at the news conference. “The key word in all this legislation is ‘unlawful,’ ” Readshaw said. “We are addressing an illegal activity, not only in this commonwealth, but in the United States of America.”
Citizens have nothing to worry about, Metcalfe said.
“No one will be stopped because they look like an illegal alien, whatever that is,” Stein said.
The bill, Metcalfe said, calls for “profiling based on breaking the law.”
Despite Rendell’s veto threat, Metcalfe said he thinks there’s a chance lawmakers will pass the bill in the pressure-cooker atmosphere this summer and fall over state budget and transportation funding deficits. He believes Rendell’s first inclination would be to veto it, but he said Rendell sometimes changes his mind on issues.