House Panel OKs Punishing Illegal Immigrant Hires

Marc Scolforo
Associated Press

Pennsylvanians who knowingly hire illegal immigrants would lose their professional licenses under a bill that passed out of a state House committee on a party-line vote Tuesday.

The Republican-majority State Government Committee approved the Professional Licensees Illegal Employment Act, which would cover anyone licensed by the Bureau of Occupational and Professional Affairs. Its penalties would apply to first-offense violations.

Supporters said the proposed law would help prevent people who are in the United States illegally from holding jobs that legal residents could otherwise have.

“We have some employers who are looking the other way, and there aren’t any ramifications,” said the sponsor, Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Allegheny. He said passage of the bill would have a deterrent effect on businesses.

Democrats said they worried the bill could lead to large institutions going out of business because of a single hire, and that the standards by which someone would be subject to a complaint and investigation were not spelled out.

Rep. Babette Josephs of Philadelphia, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said some of the state’s large hospitals or universities — and even large chains of barbershops — could find themselves in jeopardy if the bill is enacted.

Mustio said the complaint and investigation procedures would be those already in place at the Department of State, which includes the Bureau of Occupational and Professional Affairs. The bureau oversees roughly 30 licensing boards for various professions and occupations, including doctors, nurses, cosmetologists, funeral directors and crane operators.

The bill is among more than a dozen in the “National Security Begins at Home” package that has been developed by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler. It was unclear when the committee would consider the other measures.

Among Metcalfe’s top priorities is a Senate-passed bill that would make most people who seek welfare, health care or other public benefits show a driver’s license or similar ID and sign a form swearing they are in the country legally.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has cautioned that illegal immigration legislation could have harmful consequences for the state’s large agricultural industry, citing problems for farmers that have arisen in the wake of Georgia’s tough new immigration law.

“We suspect that not only unauthorized foreign workers are avoiding Georgia, but many legally authorized foreign workers are also avoiding presence and employment in the state, out of fear of suspicion and hassle they may face,” Pennsylvania Farm Bureau lobbyist John J. Bell wrote to committee members in late August.

Andy Hoover, lobbyist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said Tuesday that Mustio’s bill would “set up a state-level immigration enforcement scheme. The state needs to keep its nose out of immigration and leave that to the federal government.”

Hoover said parts of Metcalfe’s illegal immigration agenda may pass, but he doubts the entire package will, calling it “a push for big government.”

The Alabama Legislature in June enacted what may be the country’s toughest illegal immigration law, patterned in part after similar legislation in Arizona and Georgia. It would let police question people suspected of being in the country illegally and hold them indefinitely, and officials can check the immigration status of public school students.

In Pennsylvania, illegal immigration has been a particularly charged issue in Hazleton, where a court battle has been waged over a local law that would deny permits to business that hire illegal immigrants and fine landlords who rent to them. City officials have blamed illegal immigrants for crimes and drugs that have taxed police, schools and hospitals, but a court order has blocked the law’s implementation.