Immigrant advocates blast proposed Pa. benefits bill

The reintroduction of a Pennsylvania bill that would bar undocumented immigrants from state and federal benefits is again drawing fire from immigrant advocacy groups. They contend the legislation would cost the state $20 million to verify what it already knows - that Pennsylvania immigrants are not illegally accessing public benefits.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Patrick Stefano (R., Fayette) with 19 co-sponsors, recently passed the Senate and went to the House, where it awaits action in the state government committee.

In a memo about the bill, Stefano wrote, "The federal government, along with individual state governments, spends billions of dollars of taxpayers' money every year" on benefits for people living here illegally.

The bill would require recipients of benefits in Pennsylvania to sign affidavits stating they are U.S. citizens or lawfully present in the country.

The bill applies to federal, state, and local grants, contracts, public housing, unemployment, welfare, health, disability, government loans, and other forms of public assistance. It was first introduced in the 2009-2010 session.

"To once again be confronted with legislation that is so contrary to our values and that criminalizes my community is an insult to the hundreds of thousands of immigrant Pennsylvanians who are proud to call Pennsylvania home," Olivia Ponce, a youth leader with Juntos, a South Philadelphia advocacy group, said at a news conference in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

The conference was co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition. The advocates call their campaign against the bill "The Hate Stops Here."

215-854-2541 @MichaelMatza1