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Poll: Pennsylvania residents residents like Arizona law

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Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Brad Bumsted and Megan Creppeau
Wednesday, July 14, 2010

HARRISBURG -- Liza Valle, who teaches Spanish at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, knows how hard it is to become a U.S. citizen.

It took Valle, a native Honduran, 13 years.

A mother of two, Valle, 42, said she understands why some Arizonans -- concerned about crime -- favor the state's controversial immigration law. But, she said, "If you ask me, from the standpoint of being Hispanic, of course I think it's racial profiling."

The law, which takes effect July 29, requires police to ask about a person's immigration status when stopped on a reasonable suspicion of being in the country illegally.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday showed Pennsylvanians, by a 2-1 margin, support the Arizona law.

"Pennsylvanians like the Arizona law and don't like President Obama's decision to ask the courts to throw it out," said Peter Brown, assistant director of the polling institute.

The Pennsylvania poll mirrors results of a national poll in June, which found Americans, by a 51 percent to 31 percent margin, favor the law.

The poll of 1,367 Pennsylvanians showed 52 percent support the Arizona law, compared with 27 percent who do not; 47 percent want lawmakers here to adopt a similar measure. The poll's margin of error was plus or minus 2.7 percent.

About 20 states intend to push measures similar to Arizona's. Bills are filed in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Michigan.

The Pennsylvania House bill tracks key provisions of Arizona's law and is necessary to "protect American lives, liberty and property," said its author, Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Cranberry.

But, argues Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton: "I don't think that 50 different immigration-enforcement laws is the answer to our immigration troubles. I understand the frustration that many communities feel over the question of illegal immigration, but having a patchwork of state laws I don't think is the right way to go."

Arizona Rep. David Gowan, R-Cochise County, a co-sponsor, said the law prohibits profiling.

"People understand that that's not the purpose here," Gowan said. "I know (illegal immigrants) cost our state roughly $2.2 billion a year -- that's in incarceration, in education and in hospitalization."

Democratic House leaders in Pennsylvania have ignored Metcalfe's bill and are unlikely to move it forward this fall before the 2009-10 session adjourns in November.

The Republican-controlled Senate has no bills "directly analogous to the Arizona law," said Erik Arneson, communications and policy director for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County.

However, the Senate in April voted, 41-9, to approve legislation that Arneson says would prevent illegal immigrants living in Pennsylvania from obtaining public benefits, including Medicaid, welfare and in-state college tuition. The bill authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati is pending in the House.

Valle said the issue is complicated, and news reports contain misinformation.

"There are lots of nuances," Valle said. "I think there's people that understand there are a lot of undocumented people that are not from Mexico. They are from other countries, who will never be stopped because they don't fit the profile.

"A lot of people don't know that people who are here overstayed their visas, and they could be from any country," she said. "The perception that the media has portrayed on TV is that a lot of people who are undocumented are just crossing the border, and that's not true."

Valle said she doesn't care if people who came here illegally become legal residents. "I think it would be great," she said. "It has a lot of financial ramifications for the government, because lots of people who are here undocumented do pay taxes."

Gowan said the issue isn't legal immigration, "which we all believe in."

"It's about the illegals," he said. "We need to stop them at the border so we can figure out who everybody is at that point. The people who do want to come over here and make a better life and become American citizens, those are the ones we need over here, and we need to make a way for that. But ... we need to make sure we secure the border first."

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