Worth Another Look: Immigration Reform

In January of 2017, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) published a list of the top 10 issues that will be before state legislatures across the nation this year. While we’re just over a quarter of the way through the two-year 2017-2018 legislative session, it’s worth a look to see what our own elected officials are doing to address each of the issues. The next topic up for consideration: immigration reform.

Immigration reform isn’t a new political issue, but it seems to have taken center stage since last year’s presidential election. And while most immigration policy is debated at the national level, its impact and effects often trickle down to the states. In Pennsylvania, the debate so far has centered on “sanctuary cities.”

The definition of a “sanctuary city” is imprecise, at best, and most definitions are colored by the speaker’s personal viewpoint. Plainly, a sanctuary city is one that, as a matter of policy, does not hold an immigrant in jail upon arrest so that federal officers can double check his or her immigration status. Opponents of sanctuary cities will say that these are municipalities that willfully violate federal law by failing to cooperate with federal officials about the legal status of immigrants, and that sanctuary cities threaten public safety by refusing to hold immigrants accused of a crime in jail long enough for the federal government to check on their legal status. On the other hand, proponents of sanctuary cities argue that sanctuary policies actually assist in public safety efforts, since immigrants who are likely to be discovered by law enforcement as illegal are afraid to report crimes or serve as witnesses in criminal actions. Proponents also rely on the principle that America has always held itself out as a melting pot for people of diverse nationalities.

Whatever your take on sanctuary cities, the issue at hand is whether or not the government should withhold certain funding from those cities, and whether or not those cities should be liable for damages for injuries caused by an act of an unauthorized alien. In Pennsylvania, there are two bills making their way through the state legislature that would do just that: S.B. 10 (Reschenthaler, R-Allegheny) and H.B. 28 (White, R-Philadelphia). Both of them purport to address the issues described above. S.B. 10 passed the Senate in February of this year by a vote of 37-12 and is currently in the House Judiciary Committee. H.B. 28 lags a little behind, having been reported from the House State Government Committee, given first consideration in the House and re-referred to the House Rules Committee.

Legislators in the Keystone State have also put the establishment of “sanctuary campuses” up for debate. These initiatives would withhold state appropriations from institutions of higher education that hold themselves out as “sanctuary campuses,” refusing to share information about undocumented students with federal officials. H.B. 14 (Knowles, R-Schuylkill) was reported from the House State Government Committee in May, given first consideration and laid on the table. S.B. 273 (Rafferty, R-Montgomery), was reported from the Senate Education Committee in April, given first and second consideration in the Senate, and has been re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee.

All four of these bills will remain in play through November 30, 2018, when the current two-year session will come to a close; whether or not they progress any further along in the legislative process will be largely influenced by what happens regarding immigration policies at the federal level. Stay tuned to this blog and follow us on Twitter @BuchananLobbyists for updates.

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