An Aug. 2 hearing by the state's House Republican Policy Committee was convened to debate new restrictions on immigration at the state level. So perhaps it was suitable that acting Chairman Daryl Metcalfe (R-Cranberry) managed to import much of the content. Two speakers were from outside the state, and Metcalfe himself kept smuggling in references to "activist judges" in California and badly dated references to Bill Clinton.
The first signs that Metcalfe may have brought a certain perspective to the hearing were the first two speakers: Angela Bay Buchanan, the sister of ultra-conservative Pat Buchanan, and Jon E. Dougherty, author of the book Illegals: The Imminent Threat Posed by our Unsecured U.S.-Mexico Border.
The majority of those testifying were in favor of some kind of state intervention in immigration issues. None were as vocal as Buchanan.
"People say this is a federal issue, not a state issue," Buchanan told the legislators on the panel. "But it is your job because you are Americans.
"You have illegals coming here who can't speak a word of English, but they know the word amnesty," she added, referring to a common charge that more moderate federal immigration bills will allow illegals already in this country to gain citizenship, and its privileges, ahead of others waiting to enter legally. "It's incumbent on you to step in and do the job."
Much of the day's testimony concerned state proposals to hold employers professionally and personally responsible if they hire undocumented workers intentionally. Metcalfe, Deputy Attorney General Richard Sheetz and Lou Gilberti of the Greater Pennsylvania Regional Council of Carpenters spoke about pending state legislation, House Bill 2760, that would make this a third-degree felony. The bill is currently in the House judiciary committee.
Sheetz testified that attempts at laws in other states have been struck down when challenged.
"I say, so what?" Metcalfe said. "Let's do something and see whether it's overturned on a challenge."
Hank Butler of Associated Builders and Contractors urged the panel to be "cautious in your efforts to regulate undocumented workers in Pennsylvania." He said the immigration issue has created a "hysteria" that will deter companies from hiring minorities of any kind, for fear they will be punished if an illegal worker fools them with fraudulent documents. He also worried that the process of targeting business owners would become political under the proposed law.
"ABC fears that intentional hiring being interpreted on a county-by-county or elected-official-by-elected-official basis can have numerous meanings and no set criteria," Butler testified. "This can create a hostile and obstructive environment for employers who recruit minorities into their workforce. Pennsylvania is making private-sector employers responsible in solving a national failure regarding homeland security and securing our borders."
Celeste Taylor, a local activist and Pennsylvania coordinator of People for the American Way, called for a more bipartisan effort in her written testimony: "These immigrants are being used as pawns by politicians who think it will score them a few points with their right-wing base."
"You're talking about people who are just trying to work hard and make a life for themselves and their families," she added at the Cranberry Township hearing.
"Some have alleged that there are political motives behind these hearings, but illegal is illegal," Metcalfe said. "I have a problem with employers who give you a wink and nod and then hire illegals."
But at least one of Metcalfe's constituents ... John Olesnevich of Middlesex Township, who plans to be Metcalfe's write-in opponent in November ... wasn't convinced of the purity of the representative's motives.
"This is a guy who was for property-tax elimination, among other things, and hasn't done anything toward that end," Olesnevich said. "This is just a hot-button issue that he and others have grabbed onto to take the focus off of real issues that matter to the family, like real property-tax reform and the living wage."