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Border safety concerns beget legislative attention

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(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania is among states crafting legislation to address immigration at the state level – a responsibility historically held by the federal government – due to what lawmakers say is the Biden administration’s failure to secure the southern border.

At a recent press briefing, House Republicans highlighted several bills they have introduced, or plan to, to tackle the issue.

“Every time you create a sanctuary city or county, you are literally moving the national border to your own neighborhood,” said House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Quarryville. “And when the government picks and chooses which laws are important, they invite the people that live under their watch to do the same. This must stop.”

House Bill 1840, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Connellsville, would ban sanctuary municipalities in Pennsylvania.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety – per a February press release – just under 103,000 migrants have been sent to sanctuary cities across the country, including 3,400 to Philadelphia since November 2022.

“Communities that grant sanctuary status to illegal immigrants are failing in their most basic responsibility to uphold the law and protect the safety of their residents,” said Warner.

He added that his legislation reversed sanctuary status in two counties and he encourages others to follow suit.

“I urge majority House Democrats to live up to their responsibility on this issue by moving these bills,” Warner said.

Gov. Josh Shapiro and his Democratic allies have placed the onus on Congress to pass “comprehensive reform to fix our broken immigration system.”

After the Senate OK’d a bill in March to send National Guard troops to the Mexican border, a Shapiro spokesperson told The Center Square the “issue requires leaders in both parties to step up and deliver real, comprehensive solutions — not more of the failed talking points and political grandstanding that have brought us decades without immigration reform.”

Other critics of Republicans’ border security concerns say the issue is a humanitarian crisis and undocumented are too often demonized, rather then allowed to assimilate.

Republican lawmakers say reports across the country suggest otherwise.

Citing an attack earlier this year on NYPD officers by undocumented immigrants, Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, introduced House Bill 2214 that would require a $1 million minimum bail for assaulting a law enforcement officer.

Noting the importance of stopping illegal immigration to curb the ongoing epidemic of crime and violence, she said her legislation sends a clear message – “Pennsylvania stands firmly against violence toward those who protect and serve our communities.”

Currently, prosecutors are not required to inform ICE that a criminal defendant is illegally residing in the country. House Bill 2228, sponsored by Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Johnstown, would change that.

In a memo, Rigby stated that progressive prosecutors adopting sanctuary policies are derelict in their duty.

Those who have committed crimes while unlawfully residing in this country, he said, “should not be released back into our communities without oversight or accountability.”

He added that the recent surge in unlawful migration has played a significant role in several developing crises.

Rep. Donna Scheuren, R-Gilbertsville, discussed her forthcoming legislation to crack down on squatters requiring local cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, should a squatter be in the country illegally.

“For too long in Pennsylvania, we have protected criminal squatters over the rights of property owners,” said Scheuren, adding that her bill “would provide property owners with the protections they deserve, and properly punish squatters who invade homes and cause damage to the properties they invade.”

Several bills sponsored by Rep. Mike Cabell, R-Dallas, include House Resolution 294, urging the federal government to more closely monitor “ghost flights” into Pennsylvania. It also emphasizes the importance of collaboration between federal, state and local authorities to stop illegal immigration and ensure policy is implemented in a safe, humane manner.”

Ghost flights are untracked, unmonitored flights carrying undocumented immigrants into the United States. Cabell said these flights pose risks to both the safety of communities and the immigrants themselves.

“We need to urge our federal partners to reconsider this policy that, if unchecked, will create new humanitarian crises in Pennsylvania,” he said.

In addition to a bill establishing two criminal offenses – one for illegal entry from foreign nations and another for illegal reentry – Cabell also plans to introduce another that imposes a fee on international wire transfers back to individuals in their home countries, similar to one proposed in the Senate.

A package of six bills introduced by Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Macungie, addresses a variety of issues: requiring E-Verify for all public contracts; ICE background checks for firearms purchases; protecting vulnerable children from labor exploitation; ending sanctuary cities; improving accuracy of voter registration records; and prohibiting noncitizens from voting in elections.

According to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, or FAIR, the cost of illegal immigration to Pennsylvania taxpayers in 2023 was $1.64 billion.

It’s unclear if House Democrats, who control the chamber’s voting schedule, will consider moving any of the bills.

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