State Rep. Harry Readshaw, D-Allegheny, said remarks made by U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter while visiting the Luzerne County Correctional Facility support legislation he has introduced in the state House that would give Pennsylvania agencies the authority to make up for the federal government's failure to adequately enforce immigration laws.
According to an article in the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, Mr. Specter's office reports that it is believed there are about 1,000 undocumented aliens in Pennsylvania prisons. An officer at the Luzerne County jail, Capt. Mark Rockovich, is quoted as telling the senator the facility “may not have overcrowding if we didn't have illegal aliens.” Mr. Rockovich is also reported to have told Mr. Specter the county facility handled an estimated 180 illegal aliens in 2007.
Mr. Specter is reported to have told the county officials he accompanied on the prison tour that the rate of recidivism is extremely high for convicted illegal immigrants, worsening the problem of prison and jail overcrowding. He noted that law enforcement officials are hampered in identifying if an apprehended individual is an illegal alien. Even if they do, they do not have the resources to deport undocumented prisoners, whose native countries often refuse to accept their return.
Mr. Readshaw's bill (H.B. 2169) would allow the state to assert its right to ensure that immigration laws are enforced when the federal government will not or cannot enforce them itself.
“There are illegal immigrants attending our schools and seeking public benefits and, as pointed out by Senator Specter's jail visit, adding to the cost of our police, judiciary and incarceration system,” Mr. Readshaw said. “Of course, these costs are borne by taxpayers. But because they are undocumented, illegals avoid paying most taxes and in many instances, especially in the construction trades, take jobs away from Americans and legal immigrants.
Among its provisions, Mr. Readshaw's proposal would:
• Require public agencies to determine if people, except for children up to age 14, who seek benefits are lawfully in the country.
• Mandate that public employers and companies contracting with public employers use electronic measures to verify a person's eligibility for employment.
• Make it a felony to knowingly transport or harbor an illegal immigrant.
• Authorize the state attorney general to reach an accord with the federal government to permit state and local law enforcement officers to assume certain federal immigration enforcement responsibilities.
Prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving higher education financial assistance and scholarships. Students would still be allowed to attend universities at in-state tuition rates.
• Mandate that prisons verify the immigration status of people arrested on drunken-driving or felony charges.
“I welcome Senator Specter's appraisal of the situation as I pursue rectifying the problem at the state level,” Mr. Readshaw said. “I hope he and other federal lawmakers will get Washington to live up to its obligations to sufficiently secure our borders and finally take action against employers and others who make money from dealing with illegal aliens.”
Mr. Readshaw's bill awaits action in the House State Government Committee.