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PA House Republicans Target Illegal Immigration Issue

From fentanyl deaths to public health funding to high-profile criminals like Danelo Cavalcante—an illegal immigrant and convicted murderer who escaped from Chester County Prison and evaded a 500-officer manhunt for two weeks last September—Pennsylvanians are paying the price locally for America’s border chaos. Now, House Republicans want the state legislature to take action, starting with a ban on sanctuary cities in the Keystone State.

“According to the Center for Immigration Studies, 13 counties in Pennsylvania consider themselves sanctuaries. And four municipalities have been labeled ‘welcoming cities,’” House GOP Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said at a press conference Wednesday.

“Make no mistake, every time you create a sanctuary city or county, you’re literally moving the national border to your own neighborhood.”

The scope of the illegal immigration problem isn’t in dispute. Customs and Border Protection reported a record 3.2 million “enforcement actions” in fiscal year 2023—five times higher than when President Joe Biden took office. And the CBP reported last week that apprehensions on the U.S.-Mexico border between ports of entry had exceeded one million in just the first six months of the fiscal year 2024. That doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands entering the U.S. through ports of entry via questionable asylum claims or Biden’s parole system that flies immigrants from Central America directly to American cities.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Rep. Martina White (R-Philadelphia) touted her legislation requiring a minimum $1 million bail for anyone charged with assaulting a Pennsylvania police officer. She said it was a response to recent cases of illegal immigrants attacking cops and then being released.

White specifically referenced an incident in New York City where a group of illegal immigrants “viciously attacked two NYPD officers, punching and kicking them.”

“After arrests were made, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg released several of the suspects without bail, leaving them free to roam the streets to commit more crimes and simply disappear before the next court date,” said White.  “Upon his release, one of the suspects infamously raised his middle fingers at media cameras as he left the courtroom. Make no mistake, that gesture wasn’t just pointed toward the camera. It was pointed toward our police, our laws, and every law-abiding citizen.

“Our police officers deserve to know that their lawmakers here in Harrisburg and their communities back home have their backs,” added White.

Rep. Mike Cabell (R-Luzerne) is sponsoring a resolution to ask Congress and federal agencies to monitor “ghost flights” more closely. Those flights, some of which have landed in Pennsylvania, drop off “large numbers of undocumented immigrants,” said Cabell.

“These ghost flights are untracked and unmonitored. They circumvent and abuse immigration law, undermining the hard work and dedication of immigrants who enter the country legally,” said Cabell.

Rep. Donna Scheuren (R-Montgomery) introduced the Homeowner Protection and Squatter Eviction Act to protect homeowners by toughening squatter penalties. The bill allows homeowners to sign an affidavit allowing police to remove squatters immediately and increases the penalty to a felony for squatters who do more than $1,000 damage. It also requires police to notify ICE if the squatter is here illegally.

Scheuren mentioned several cases, including one from Philadelphia, where a resident had to pay squatters $1,200 to vacate a home he had put up for sale after police said they could not do anything to remove them because of “squatters’ rights.” He also had to pay $600 to clean up their mess.

She quoted U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.), who said, “This is crazy. Squatters should have no rights whatsoever. How can our colleagues pretend this is anything other than breaking the law?”

The issue of sanctuary cities is at the center of the House GOP’s efforts.

“Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have declared themselves sanctuary cities that will not cooperate with federal immigration officials when they find someone in their cities in this country illegally,” said Cutler. And “recently Lancaster city voted to end its cooperation with the U.S. Customs Enforcement.”

Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette) complained Democrats had his bill to prevent municipalities from becoming illegal immigration sanctuaries stuck in committee.

Some Pennsylvania Democrats have complained Republicans are simply using the immigration issue for political purposes and that it doesn’t have a direct impact on the lives of ordinary Americans.

Warner pointed to the example of Laken Riley, a 22-year-old Georgia college student whom an undocumented Venezuelan immigrant allegedly murdered while she was out running on campus.

“If you ask the parents of Laken Riley, I guarantee they’ll tell you (it’s) an issue of personal safety,” Warner said.

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PA Legislature, Governor Consider Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Immigrants

Should illegal immigrants be able to get Pennsylvania driver’s licenses? At first, the Shapiro administration seemed to support this idea. Now, not so much.

Answering questions from members of the House Appropriations Committee on March 4, Secretary of Transportation Mike Carroll said he and Gov. Josh Shapiro favor allowing illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

“The issuance of driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants is something that I support, the department supports, the governor supports, with safeguards necessary to make sure that folks that are issued those products are treated the same as folks that have a regular driver’s license or a naturalized citizen or a citizen of the U.S.,” Carroll said.

However, during a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee two days later, Carroll was more tentative.

“There are other agencies that will have a role with respect to the oversight,” Carroll said in response to a question on driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants from Sen. Shariff Street (D-Philadelphia). “And it’s going to be important to make sure that those other agencies are able to get to a comfort level before that bill were to advance.”

Shapiro’s spokesman Manuel Bonder told DVJournal, “The Shapiro administration will continue to evaluate this proposal as it moves through the legislative process” — a far cry from a statement of support.

The bill (HB 769) sponsored by Philadelphia Democratic Reps. Danilo Burgos, Christopher Rabb, and Joseph Hohenstein would allow illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses and state identification cards. It remains pending in the transportation committee.

One member of that committee, Rep. Donna Scheuren (R-Gilbertsville), told DVJournal, “Granting driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants undermines the rule of law in Pennsylvania, and I stand against it. Driver’s licenses are a privilege for citizens and legal residents, not those who broke immigration laws, to enter our country illegally. It undermines our immigration system and could threaten our national security.

“As a member of the Transportation Committee, I believe my job entails writing or approving legislation that ensures proper safety measures are being taken in all forms of travel throughout our state,” said Scheuren. “This policy just opens a whole new list of concerns that PennDOT has not yet addressed. I am very opposed to this legislation, and I hope the Shapiro administration reconsiders their support.”

Rep. Mike Cabell (R-Luzerne) asked Carroll on Monday about undocumented immigrants obtaining REAL IDs in Pennsylvania. Beginning in May 2025, Pennsylvanians will need a REAL ID, a passport, or military identification to board an airplane or enter a military base or federal building.

“Over a dozen states already allow noncitizens, including illegal immigrants, to obtain driver’s licenses,” said Cabell. Meanwhile, federal DHS (Department of Homeland Security) policy stipulates that states can offer REAL ID to those with TPS temporary protected status. Does Pennsylvania allow noncitizens with TPS to obtain a real ID?

Carroll said, “When it comes to REAL ID, I was in the House when the REAL ID was voted the first time, and I voted against it because I thought we had a REAL ID in Pennsylvania: it’s called a Pennsylvania driver’s license. (But) Pennsylvania complied with the federal requirement. I have the greatest level of faith in our Pennsylvania motor vehicle folks that those folks that are getting REAL IDs. About 20 percent of Pennsylvania drivers have a real ID at this point, have the documentation necessary to support that REAL ID.”

He mentioned the documentation can be challenging to obtain, especially for women who use their married name.

“But the issuance of REAL ID is not something that happens haphazardly in Pennsylvania,” said Carroll.

Cabell also mentioned ghost flights that drop off illegal immigrants at various locations in the middle of the night. Carroll said he did not know what ghost flights were.

“There was one that just happened. It was diverted into Philadelphia in December,” said Cabell. “The question is, are we positive that there are not people (who are) obtaining REAL IDs in other states, and entering into our state?”

Carroll didn’t know.

Rep. Seth Grove (R-York), the Republican chair of the committee, also asked Carroll whether “the administration does support licenses for illegal immigrants.”

Carroll said, “With the necessary safeguards so that law enforcement can do its job.”

Grove also asked whether the Department of State, which handles voter services, interacts with PennDOT. Deputy Secretary Kara Templeton said the Department of State and the counties have access to the SURE voter registration system. Last fall, Shapiro began a program to register voters automatically when they sign up for a driver’s license.

Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chester/Delaware), a candidate for attorney general, also opposes giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants.

Rep. Lisa Borowski (D-Newtown Square) said, “I look forward to learning more about the provisions of HB 769 when it is vetted through the committee process.”


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Candidates Speak Out on ‘Ghost Flights’ of Illegals into PA

The specter of charter planes landing in the dead of night at Wilkes-Barre Scranton International Airport carrying unaccompanied illegal immigrant minors has become a campaign issue for the GOP.

Republican Lou Barletta, a former mayor and congressman now running for governor in 2022, called out Democrats Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro for their lack of action on the issue. Barletta, a longtime opponent of illegal immigration, told the Delaware Valley Journal he would bus illegal aliens to President Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware if the federal government continued to ship them to the Keystone State. And he raised the issue of the ghost flights in a DVJournal podcast.

“We can’t let the federal government just drop people off in this country in the middle of the night without any background on who they are or what their health and COVID status is. This nonsense stops when I’m governor,” Barletta said on Facebook.

Shapiro, a Democrat, is also running to replace the term-limited Wolf. Shapiro’s spokeswoman deferred a request for comment to the federal Health & Human Services Department, which did not immediately respond.

“It has been confirmed that there have been four clandestine charter flights of illegal immigrants from El Paso, Texas to northeast Pennsylvania: On December 11, December 17, and twice on Christmas night. Further flights are expected on December 30 and 31,” Barletta said on his campaign website.

He also sent a letter to Wolf and Shapiro concerning the flights.

“While the federal Department of Health and Human Services claims that minors on the flights have been given ‘catch-up’ vaccines for a variety of diseases, it is difficult to comprehend how that could be the case. Under Pennsylvania law, children are required to be immunized against many diseases, and some require multiple doses spread out over long periods of time,” Barletta said.

“I asked Gov. Wolf, did he know about this? Were they vaccinated?” Barletta said during a Fox News appearance last week. “And I’m not only talking about COVID. Pennsylvania law requires any minors, before they can go to school, to [be vaccinated for] polio, hepatitis, mumps, measles, chickenpox. Were criminal background checks done? And where were they going? Shouldn’t the people in those communities, those school districts, know? And there was no answer at all.”

Wolf spokesperson Elizabeth Rementer said the governor viewed it as a federal issue.

“As any elected official should know, immigration is a federal matter; instead of making this a political PR stunt, their questions are best directed to the federal government,” Rementer said. “That said, the administration sought further information from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. Had any of the elected officials sending letters/statements asked, they would have received the same information that we have from HHS.  Over recent weeks, unaccompanied children passed through the Wilkes-Barre airport en route to their final destination to be unified with their parents or vetted sponsor. These were not ICE flights as the legislators have claimed.”

Rementer also claimed the children being brought to the state are vaccinated and those with symptoms must quarantine.

“While traveling, unaccompanied children are required to wear masks and follow all federal guidelines for safe air travel,” said Rementer.

Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies, said, “This conversation gets right to the heart of the border problem – it is the states that have to bear the fiscal and security burden of the Biden administration’s policy to allow unlimited entry of families and kids crossing the border illegally. The states and localities where the migrants are settling are not consulted, or even informed, about who is arriving, yet they will have to provide education, social services, jobs and housing for them indefinitely, not to mention deal with the few among the migrants who turn out to be criminals. Biden is doing this in the dead of night because he can’t defend the policy in the light of day.”

Republicans aren’t letting the issue go.

Former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain, also a GOP candidate for governor, said he would stop the flights if he were governor.

“We are a nation of laws. This requires our government leaders to uphold the rule of law – and not do things like transport illegal immigrants into Pennsylvania in the dead of night,” McSwain said in a statement. “These ‘ghost flights’ are a slap in the face to law-abiding Pennsylvanians and yet another example of Joe Biden’s willingness to prioritize taxpayer-funded accommodation of lawbreakers over the safety of American citizens. The people of Pennsylvania deserve better than to be duped into receiving hundreds of unvetted illegal immigrants into their communities.”

State Sen. Doug Mastriano, (R-York) who is expected to announce his gubernatorial candidacy on Jan. 8, also sent Wolf a letter claiming flights with more than 100 illegal immigrants have landed in both Erie and Scranton. He asked if state funds were used for these immigrants and called upon the governor to stop the flights as well.

“Our own citizens have serious needs,” said Mastriano. “And it is irresponsible to divert any resources to those who are in the country illegally.”

Dave White, former Delaware County councilman and gubernatorial candidate, also weighed in. “Rather than conducting these flights with illegal immigrants under the cloak of darkness, Pennsylvanians deserve transparency. With spikes in crime and COVID-19 infections spreading, we cannot allow Joe Biden’s open border policies to spread to Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, Biden, Tom Wolf, and Josh Shapiro have embraced and rewarded lawlessness.”

Carla Sands, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, took to Facebook to express her concerns.

“Biden has left our borders wide open and now Pennsylvanians are paying the price. Four ghost flights packed with illegal immigrants landed in Scranton just a few days ago. This is Biden’s mess but it’s all part of his open borders agenda,” she said. Sands, a former ambassador under Trump, called on Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to resign.

GOP Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz weighed in on Facebook, as well. “Biden’s border crisis has turned every state into a border state & the effects of his disastrous, open-border policies have rippled across our country, sadly even into the Wilkes Barre-Scranton area. We need strong leaders who will secure our border.”

Meanwhile, Republican Senate candidate Kathy Barnette, a frequent Fox News commentator, posted a video on Facebook about the issue.

“We can have great sympathy and heart for those particular illegal aliens coming into our country who truly want a better chance in life,” said Barnette. But she noted, “We are a nation of laws. Right now we are blowing through the Constitution like a whale moves through a net.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment for this article. However, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) told the Times-Tribune that it had not organized the flights.

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