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October 21, 2016

Letter to Gov. Wolf in Opposition to House Bill 1885 from Gaetan J. Alfano, Deborah R. Gross and Mary F. Platt

October 20, 2016

Honorable Tom Wolf
225 Main Capitol Bldg.
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Re: House Bill 1885

Dear Governor Wolf:

On behalf of the 12,000-member Philadelphia Bar Association, we write in opposition to House Bill 1885, which was passed by the General Assembly. This bill would require all local law enforcement officers to notify Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) whenever they have "reasonable cause to believe" that an individual under arrest is not lawfully present in the United States; prohibit municipalities from placing restrictions on employees' ability to share information with federal immigration authorities about a person’s immigration status; and impose strict liability on "sanctuary municipalities" for injuries caused by crimes committed by individuals without lawful status in the United States.

We understand that the Senate will vote on this Bill on Tuesday, October 25, 2016. We also anticipate that the Bill will pass.

On September 29, 2016, the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Board of Governors unanimously adopted the enclosed Resolution Opposing House Bill No. 1885, Printer’s No. 3075 on "Sanctuary Cities."

We strongly oppose this bill because it is built on a false premise – that individuals without lawful status in the United States commit more crime than citizens. According to a 2015 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, from 1990 to 2014, the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States grew from 3.5 million in 1990 to 11.3 million in 2014. Yet, as reported by the National Review, in the same period, violent crime fell by 51 percent and property crime dropped by 43 percent. Moreover, study after study has shown that immigrants – regardless of nationality or legal status – are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or to be incarcerated.

The Philadelphia Bar Association strongly opposes this bill because it will drive a wedge between law enforcement and the community. All Pennsylvanians are safer when every member of the community feels comfortable coming to the police to report a crime, or to share information with police about what they saw. Law enforcement officials are better able to do their jobs when every member of a community feels safe talking to them, regardless of that community member’s immigration status. By requiring local law enforcement to take on the responsibility of enforcing complex immigration laws, House Bill 1885 will undermine the feelings of trust that are essential to good policing. The General Assembly should not place itself between police and the communities they serve.

We also strongly oppose this bill because of the added burden it will place on local municipalities. Immigration enforcement is primarily a federal responsibility. However, House Bill 1885, by so strenuously imposing restrictions and reporting requirements on municipalities, shifts this responsibility to local governments in ways that will drain resources and energy away from the law enforcement activities for which they bear sole responsibility. This shift creates new liabilities and risks for local governments, including forcing them to spend more money on enforcement and jailing more people, for longer periods of time, without reimbursement. This amounts to an unfunded mandate guaranteed to increase local taxes.

Whether formally through declarations as "sanctuary cities" or informally by practice, local municipalities and police departments limit their role in immigration enforcement to ensure that they respect the constitutional rights of members of the community they serve with regard to probable cause and due process. Federal courts across the country have found local municipalities liable for choosing to honor ICE requests, and violating the constitutional rights of detained individuals in the process.

The harsh reporting requirements in House Bill 1885 place pressure on local law enforcement officers to make on the spot decisions, applying complex immigration laws with which they are unfamiliar. This increases the risk that mistakes will be made, resulting in costly litigation and an increased burden on the taxpayers.

House Bill 1885 imposes a duty on every municipal law enforcement officer in Pennsylvania who has an undefined "reasonable cause to believe that an individual under arrest is not legally present in the United States" to immediately report the person to ICE. It is an invitation to racial and ethnic profiling.

Pennsylvania’s economy is expanding, at least partly through the contributions of immigrants who are reenergizing business districts and industrial zones throughout the Commonwealth. House Bill 1885 sends an unwelcoming message to these immigrants and places them at risk in the hands of law enforcement officers merely because of their appearance or accent. Finally, we believe that the Bill is unconstitutional in that it seeks to impose strict liability on sanctuary cities for any acts caused by anyone for crimes committed by residents without lawful status. This concept turns the civil law on its head because it imposes liability for acts by third parties beyond the control of municipalities.

For these reasons, we urge you to veto House Bill 1885. Thank you.


Gaetan J. Alfano, 2016 Chancellor

Deborah R. Gross, 2016 Chancellor-Elect

Mary F. Platt, 2016 Vice Chancellor

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