HARRISBURG - The economic impact of Pennsylvania's illegal immigrant community is at the center of proposed legislation by some Republicans who want the state to join Arizona and others, which recently have cracked down on illegal immigration.
Proponents of the bills say illegal immigration directly affects the three largest chunks of the state's discretionary spending: public education, public welfare and corrections. Opponents say illegal immigrants are not the cause of the state's economic problems and evicting them would be bad for the state's economy.
The bills in the state House package include: requiring photo identification for public benefits; directing businesses to use a federal registration system known as E-Verify to ensure workers are American citizens; and allowing law enforcement to check for photo identification randomly, similar to controversial legislation passed in Arizona last year.
While the federal government is responsible for controlling and regulating immigration, Republican state lawmakers nationwide are starting to take the issue into their own hands, citing a lack of responsiveness from Washington.
"Every state in the nation is affected by illegal immigration when we're talking about federal taxpayer money," said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, chairman of the House State Government Committee and a leading sponsor of the package.
He said the state's illegal immigrant population costs taxpayers about $1 billion each year, citing information from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which supports stronger immigration policy.
But those provisions would hurt some small Pennsylvania businesses that rely on immigrant workers.
Kay Hollabaugh, whose family owns Hollabaugh Bros. Inc. Fruit Farm and Market in Adams County, said the new restrictions - particularly the use of the E-Verify system - would likely put the 500-acre farm out of business.
"We are already stretched painfully thin simply keeping up with the mountains of paperwork and regulations that already exist," Hollabaugh said. "The workers that I employ, be they legal or not, pay into our tax base. They eat in our restaurants and shop at our stores."
The Hollabaugh Bros. farm pays its seasonal workers at least minimum wage, and most workers make more than $8 per hour, said Hollabaugh, with the potential to make up to $20 per hour when being paid by the piece for certain harvests. The minimum wage in Pennsylvania is $7.25 per hour, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Hollabaugh said immigrant workers respond to the farm's job postings because they are willing to perform the physical labor required on a fruit farm. The farm employs between 15 and 20 seasonal workers.
About 150,000 of Pennsylvania's 12 million residents are estimated to be illegal immigrants, with about 110,000 of them having jobs, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based policy center.