ANOTHER OPINION: Targeting Those Who Hire Illegal Workers

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BY STATE REP. JOHN GALLOWAY/ In an interview with a Pittsburgh radio station last week, I was asked the following questions:

“How did a Democrat, in only his second term, convince his leadership to address illegal immigration, arguably the most divisive policy issue in the last decade; go against the Governor, his administration, and the most powerful union (SEIU) in the country, which gives huge amounts of campaign cash to the Democrat party; then create an alliance with Republicans, and convince them to go against the most powerful pro-business lobby, which gives huge amounts of cash to the Republican Party?”

I answered in one word: Jobs. I have worked on this issue for almost four years and, for me, it’s always been about jobs. For the past decade or more, the Federal government has ignored the pleas of honest employers and American workers who have sought relief from the growing tide of companies that ignore the law and hire illegal workers.

I believe Pennsylvania must take immediate action to protect honest companies and American workers. And there is no better place to start than in Pennsylvania’s construction industry.

There are up to 35,000 illegal construction workers in Pennsylvania alone. The unemployment rate among Pennsylvania construction workers has hit 37%.

HBs 1502 and 1503 target contractors who cheat, who use and abuse a cheap illegal, workforce for profit. This has had a devastating effect on our economy.

We are losing millions of dollars in an underground economy. Contractors who don’t pay taxes, and employees who don’t pay taxes, put a tremendous strain on our education system, judicial system and our health-care system.

These contractors are guilty of a litany of human-rights violations, safety violations and tax violations. They’re providing substandard working conditions and substandard pay.

I am pleased to say this legislation recently passed the Pennsylvania House with overwhelming bipartisan support. Now the legislation is in the State Senate, and I am grateful to Sen. Chuck McIlhinney Jr. for taking the lead there. However, it will still be opposed by the same strange coalition that fought against it in the House.

I am amazed at the number of organizations who will stop at nothing to block or water down legislation addressing the illegal-worker problem. Their willingness to protect contractors who cheat and break the law at the expense of honest companies is un-American and unforgivable.

We must also ensure the billions of Federal and State dollars being spent to create jobs go to creating jobs for Americans, not illegal workers.

This has been a long, hard fight. I have had the benefit of some of the most brilliant immigration minds in the country, who helped me write the bills. They taught me the key to defeating the powerful special interests, and their supporters, was to cut through the rhetoric that is splattered across our television screens.

Most importantly, I needed to understand the myriad of existing immigration laws that have sprung up across this country and to know the difference between what is successful in court and what is not.

To do this, I had to teach myself immigration law. And I had some of the best teachers in the world. Last year alone I spent months in Harrisburg, preparing for what we all knew was coming. And when it came down to the floor debate last week, there were over 30 amendments offered to defeat or water down these bills.

We defeated every one.

How did all this happen? How is Pennsylvania so close to doing something few other states have done, and offer a serious solution to a serious problem? A problem the Federal government seems paralyzed to act? How were we able to convince Republicans and Democrats to work together and go against the most powerful of special interests at a time when this country is more divided than ever? Especially on this, the most divisive issue in our country?

The answer is simple: Jobs. We need to get our people back to work and we need to do it now.

Please contact your State Senator and Gov. Ed Rendell and ask them to support HB 1502 and H.B. 1503. It’s time to take matters into our own hands.

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