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Immigration Advocates Oppose Bill Forcing Pa. Agencies To Verify Citizenship Before Issuing Benefits

By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Philadelphia's immigration advocates held a press conference Wednesday demanding that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf veto a bill that would require state agencies to verify an applicants' immigration status before giving out public benefits.

A small, but enthusiastic group of protesters silently held signs that read "no to Senate Bill 9," a measure that would require Pennsylvania agencies to verify the citizenship or immigration status for anyone seeking food, housing or other public benefits and make it illegal for non-citizens to possess a food stamp card.

"We will not become an Arizona," says Erika Almiron, who runs Juntos. The group joined other advocates a couple of years ago to successfully knock out what they call "anti-immigration" bills before they became law in the Commonwealth. SB-9 passed the Senate and is in the House and they want to kill it too before it becomes law.

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Erika Almiron at the podium. (Credit: Cherri Gregg)

"We want the Governor to stand with the immigrant community and veto it immediately," says Almiron, who notes the immigrant community pays taxes and contributes to Pennsylvania.

Juntos, along with the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, claim the law would cost the state $20 million to administer. They say there's no evidence that undocumented immigrants are obtaining benefits illegally, so the money could be put to better use.

"The state needs its resources to go to education," says Almiron, "it should not go to hate-mongering of our community or breeding fear within our community."

The Bill was introduced earlier this year by Western Pennsylvania-based Senator Pat Stefano and passed the Senate last month.

"In these tough economic times, when revenues are scarce, it's important to ensure that our state's resources are dedicated to those who pay taxes and are here in this state legally," Stefano said in an email to KYW Newsradio. "Pennsylvania citizens, including legal immigrants, who are struggling to make ends meet, should not have their hard-earned dollars go toward benefits for those who are ineligible."

The bill comes, at least in part, in response to a settlement between the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the Department of Justice. The state agreed to pay $48 million for illegally giving Medicaid and other benefits to undocumented immigrants over the course of several years.

Juntos and PICC say they will mobilize and take their protest to Harrisburg if necessary.

For the full text of the SB-9, CLICK HERE.

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