The director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition asked if a representative of the group could testify at an upcoming Harrisburg hearing on immigration. The request was considered, but the director was told, in effect, "Thanks, but no thanks."
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-District 12), the chairman of the Pennsylvania House's State Government Committee, called for the hearings, which began Aug. 30.
Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and HIAS and Council Migration Service of Greater Philadelphia, are lining up against the agenda.
PJC represents Jewish federations statewide and regularly testifies at Harrisburg hearings. Hank Butler, PJC's executive director, said he wasn't given a reason for the denial, which he said is more atypical than the denial itself. Sometimes, he added, there just isn't enough time allotted to accommodate everyone who wants to speak.
Butler submitted written testimony.
"We are disappointed that we were not given the opportunity to publicly testify," he said.
PJC's position is that immigration is an issue that should be left to the federal government.
Was the Jewish group excluded because its stance differs from that of Metcalfe, who is known as a hard-liner on immigration?
Butler said he wasn't jumping to conclusions and was trying to get a list of the individuals, and the organizations they represent, who were slated to testify.
Metcalfe did not respond to requests for comment.
"Just like any other national policy, America's immigration laws must protect the lives, liberty and property of American citizens, rather than foreign invaders," said Metcalfe in a press release. House Republicans have introduced a total of 14 bills that seek to grant local governments more power in identifying undocumented immigrants. Many of the bills were introduced in March, but haven't been considered yet.
One measure, House Bill 738, hews closely to the controversial law passed in Arizona that requires police to check the immigration status of those arrested and report the results to federal authorities.
Another bill would create mandatory minimum sentences for crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. Still another would redefine citizenship, stating that the child of two undocumented immigrants would not be granted American citizenship.
The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution states that any child born in the United States is automatically a citizen of this country.
State Rep. Babette Josephs (D-District 182), the minority chair of the the State Government Committee who once held Metcalfe's position, said, "I know what is going on — the chairman of the committee doesn't want to hear everybody's point of view."
A representative of one religious group opposed to the measures, Philly's Catholic Social Services, was given a slot.
Judith Bernstein-Baker, executive director of HIAS and Council Migration Service of Greater Philadelphia, said she submitted written testimony arguing that the laws, if passed, would infringe on the rights of legal immigrants and citizens as well as undocumented immigrants.
Barry Morrison, director of the eastern Pennsylvania region of the ADL, said a staffer for the group was told there was little chance of testifying in person, so the ADL also opted for written testimony.
In it, the group stated that "the use of stereotypes, hateful rhetoric and dehumanizing language have no place in the debate on immigration reform."