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Pennsylvania House Considers E-Verify Program

Old arguments over privacy and homeland security have resurfaced as state lawmakers debate a proposed requirement that public works employees in Pennsylvania be checked against a federal database.

House State Government Committee members have approved a bill that would require such contractors check the legal status of their employees through the national E-Verify Program. Representative Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County), who chairs the panel, said the proposal is intended to stop illegal immigration to Pennsylvania and free up jobs for documented workers.

"This is very consistent with current law that I support," said Metcalfe. "And that's to verify when you hire somebody that they actually are a citizen, or that they're a resident alien, or somebody here on a worker's visa that's allowed to work."

Metcalfe said that he's been working with national-level people to ensure the legislation is legal.

"It's been proven up through the U.S. Supreme Court that it is constitutional for states to require the use of E-Verify in a hard-fought case in Arizona," Metcalfe said. "So we have the U.S. Supreme Court's backing in requiring this of employers to shut down access to jobs by illegal aliens."

But, the ranking Democrat on the committee, Representative Babette Josephs (D-Philadelphia), and civil rights advocates argue the plan raises questions about personal privacy and states' rights. She calls the Republican backing schizophrenic, noting earlier this year, there was GOP opposition to the implementation of the federal REAL ID program, which would replace state driver's licenses with national identification in 2013.

"People who are against REAL ID think it's going to affect them," Josephs said. "The people who are against REAL ID and are for E-Verify don't think it's going to affect them, so it's OK. It's the same scheme."

Representative Jerry Knowles (R-Berks County) said the bill is a needed crackdown.

"The illegal alien invasion that is taking place in this commonwealth is a serious problem in the area where I live. I support this legislation," Knowles said.

The bill is part of a larger package of crackdowns on undocumented residents. The measure awaits a vote by the full House.