The Harrisburg hearing included testimony by groups supporting tougher restrictions, including the Tea Party Immigration Coalition and the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Their representatives said illegal immigration is not only costly, but it jeopardizes national security. Local police from Berks County and Beaver Meadow also testified in support.
Other speakers opposed the legislation, including farmer Kay Hollabaugh, who grows fruit and vegetables in Biglerville, near Gettysburg. The produce, she said, is entirely handpicked by immigrants whose legal status she verifies using the I-9 form required by the federal government. That form demands a government-issued photo ID and Social Security number.
She said the procedures envisioned by the legislation, such as the mandatory use of E-Verify, would create bureaucratic burdens that will threaten the survival of farms like hers. Moreover, she said, the error rate in the E-Verify database makes it unreliable - which Metcalfe disputed.
"If you are scared of immigrant laborers now," said Hollabaugh, whose farm is near Gettysburg, "just wait until we have to be at the mercy of other countries to obtain our food."
Even before the first witness testified, the bills drew fire from Philadelphia Bar Association chancellor Rudolph Garcia.
In an Aug. 24 letter to Metcalfe's 25-member committee, Garcia said the bills "would do more harm than good, by trampling our rights, reducing public safety, and impairing our economic recovery."
He wrote that one of the bills, which compels police to stop anyone "who is or should reasonably be suspected of being unlawfully present in the United States," would lead to "racial profiling" and "is not the path we should choose for Pennsylvania."
At a Tuesday news conference ahead of the legislative hearing, a coalition that included the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Service Employees International Union, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania also opposed the legislation.
In an interview after the hearing, Metcalfe said they were misguided.
"The ACLU and the Philadelphia Bar chancellor stand on the side of those breaking the laws," he said, "rather than standing with Americans for American interests."
Metcalfe will hold a second hearing at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the state Capitol.
Contact staff writer Michael Matza at 215-854-2541 or email@example.com.