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Representative Barletta: The 'Legal Workforce Act' Undermines States' Rights, Must be Defeated


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On May 3, 2011, the chief of police in Beaver Meadows, Pa., stopped a man for speeding.

The driver spoke no English, so a translator was called. He didn't know his address. He had no job. He had $3,000 in cash in his pockets. He had two state-issued cards -- in different names -- that allowed him to access taxpayer-funded welfare. He admitted he was in the United States illegally -- and had been for six years.

When the chief called Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials so they could issue a detainer, ICE refused. ICE instead ordered the illegal alien to be released. A month later, the same police chief detained four more illegal aliens after two traffic stops. ICE again ordered all illegal aliens to be released. ICE refuses to enforce existing federal immigration law.

And now, some in Congress want us to believe the federal government will enforce a new national immigration policy, thanks to the deceptively named Legal Workforce Act. On the surface, the Legal Workforce Act (H.R. 2885) sounds good. It makes the federal E-Verify system -- a free Internet-based system that lets businesses determine the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States -- mandatory for all businesses in all 50 states.

But H.R. 2885 is a good bill gone bad. That's because it guts the rights of states and local municipalities. Buried in the bill is a clause that says that states and local jurisdictions can act against businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens -- after the federal government acts against them. If the federal government doesn't act against those businesses, states and municipalities can't.

H.R. 2885 will actually block states and municipalities from enforcing their own laws punishing businesses that knowingly hire illegal aliens. As someone at the forefront of the illegal immigration battle, I don't trust the federal government to do its duty and enforce a new immigration law.
If you need proof of that, just look at our current illegal immigration problem, our porous borders, and those recent cases I mentioned. In fact, states and local jurisdictions have stepped in to write their own laws because of the federal government's failure to act to protect its own citizens.

In a Spring decision to uphold the Legal Arizona Workforce Act of 2007, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Arizona is allowed to revoke the business licenses of employers who hire illegal aliens. This landmark decision opens the door for other states and local jurisdictions that want to protect their budgets and make sure legal residents can find jobs.

So now, just as the Supreme Court rules in favor of those who want stricter immigration enforcement, H.R. 2885 threatens to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. H.R. 2885 would prevent Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, and Oklahoma from enforcing their own laws.

H.R. 2885 would prevent municipalities like Hazleton, Pa.; Valley Park, Mo.; and Fremont, Neb., from doing the same.
I've been an outspoken voice against illegal immigration for the last five years. I was forced to act in Hazleton because the federal government failed to enforce its own immigration laws. I'm shocked that I have to oppose a bill that makes the E-Verify program mandatory, which is something I would ordinarily support.

But H.R. 2885 is a bad bill simply because of its preemption of state and local laws. That clause was added to satisfy the demands of special interest groups that don't want to see serious immigration enforcement. Those groups know that H.R. 2885 is another immigration law that will not be enforced.

These groups also know that states and local jurisdictions will enforce their own laws. After all, states and local jurisdictions bear the brunt of an $80-billion-a-year burden every year -- and that's after you consider any positive tax implications illegal aliens might provide.

H.R. 2885 could be salvaged. If the preemption language is removed, H.R. 2885 could be an incredibly effective tool in the fight against illegal immigration -- but only if the preemption language is removed.
For now I must oppose H.R. 2885. My friends and I have fought too hard to see us lose everything we worked for when we're so close to victory.

U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R -- PA) is the chairman of the 112th Congress Immigration Reform Caucus and the former mayor of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, where he instituted the Illegal Immigration Relief Act, the first local ordinances cracking down on illegal immigration in the nation.

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