ACLU of PA Says Anti-Immigrant Legislation Will Undermine the Constitution

August 30, 2011 4:54 pm

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HARRISBURG – As the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee kicked off a series of two hearings on immigration-related legislation today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania called on the General Assembly to reject the proposals.

“Apparently, undermining the constitution and sabotaging our economy begins at the state capitol,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “These bills would be a disaster for the commonwealth.”

The legislation under consideration by the committee includes mimicking Arizona’s law mandating state and local police to enforce federal law; issuing separate birth certificates for children born in the United States to parents without immigration status; criminalizing the transportation of undocumented immigrants; mandating businesses to use the federal E-Verify internet program; and forcing recipients of public aid to show government-issued identification.

Hoover noted that the same approach to immigration in Georgia and Arizona has led to economic disaster.

“Businesses in both Georgia and Arizona have lost hundreds of millions of dollars, thanks to the actions of their politicians,” Hoover said. “Workers have left both states, regardless of their immigration status, and Arizona has lost convention business at a rapid rate.”

No state that has passed a law enforcement bill like Arizona’s law and like House Bill 738 in Pennsylvania has been able to enforce it. Challenges by civil rights organizations and the Department of Justice have led to court-ordered suspensions of those laws in Arizona, Georgia, Utah, Indiana, and Alabama.

Emma Cleveland, a community organizer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania’s immigrants rights project, said that following Arizona’s lead is problematic for both constitutional rights and for public safety.

“A state cannot simply takeover immigration enforcement. That’s been made clear in the existing litigation,” Cleveland said. “Turning local police into ICE agents is also a public safety hazard. Immigrants who witness crime and who are victims of crime will become less likely to cooperate with police, leading to increased victimization.”

The House State Government Committee will also take up two bills to undermine the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of citizenship for anyone born in the United States. House Bill 474 authorizes the governor to enter into a compact with other states to issue separate birth certificates to U.S.-born children of undocumented parents, and HB 857 denies Pennsylvania citizenship to babies born to parents without status.

“These bills are obviously unconstitutional,” Hoover said. “The Supreme Court has consistently ruled in favor of constitutional citizenship. Sadly, the targets of attacks on this provision of the constitution have always been racial and ethnic minorities, including African-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Japanese-Americans, and now Latino-Americans.

“These bills simply continue an unfortunate history of trying to undermine this essential constitutional protection.”

The committee hearings will be held at 1pm on Tuesday and at 9:30am on Wednesday. Both hearings will be held in Room 140 of the Main Capitol.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania has submitted written testimony for the hearings. It is available at

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