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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

TESTIMONY OF NORTHAMPTON COUNTY, PENNSYLVANIA

DISTRICT ATTORNEY JOHN M. MORGANELLI BEFORE

THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATION, BORDER,

SECURITY AND CLAIMS – WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 1, 2003

ROOM 2237 OF THE RAYBURN HOUSE OFFICE BUILDING ON

THE “CLEAR LAW ENFORCEMENT FOR CRIMINAL ALIEN

REMOVAL ACT OF 2003 (CLEAR ACT)

 

 

            Good afternoon.  My name is John M. Morganelli and I am the elected District Attorney in Northampton County, Pennsylvania.  I have served as District Attorney for twelve (12) years and I am a past President of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, a statewide Association of prosecutors in Pennsylvania. 

            On June 25, 2003 there occurred in Northampton County a ceremony that is often repeated in courthouses throughout the United States.  A number of individuals from all parts of the world participated in a naturalization ceremony that resulted in new citizens of the United States of America.  I had the pleasure of meeting some of these individuals who were beaming with pride, carrying American flags as they swore the oath of naturalization and U.S. citizenship.  These people immigrated to the United States legally, followed the rules, did what was required to become U.S. citizens and now enjoy what America has to offer them.  I have no doubt that they, like many before them and many who will come after them, will be productive citizens contributing to the greatness of America.

            Unfortunately, there are also those who come to America illegally.  They come not with an intent to commit to the American way, but rather to evade the law, commit crime and impact negatively on our country.  In the last ten (10) years, there has been a staggering increase in the number of illegal aliens residing in Pennsylvania.  INS, now ICE, estimated that the illegal alien population of Pennsylvania in 1992 to be about 27,000.  In 1996 that number jumped 37% to approximately 37,000.  The 2000 census suggests that the number of illegal aliens in Pennsylvania is somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000.  Nationwide, the estimates of illegal aliens living in the United States is somewhere between 9 and 13 million. 

            Despite the voices of those who naively believe that the influx of this estimated 9 to 13 million illegal aliens into the United States is a positive thing, the fact of the matter is that illegal immigration is having an extremely negative impact upon America at many levels.  Unfortunately, the majority of illegal aliens who are here are engaged in criminal activity.  Identity theft, use of fraudulent social security numbers and green cards, tax evasion, driving without licenses represent some of the crimes that are engaged in by the majority of illegal aliens on a daily basis merely to maintain and hide their illegal status.  In addition, violent crime and drug distribution and possession is also prevalent among illegal aliens.  Over 25% of today’s federal prison population are illegal aliens.  In some areas of the country, 12% of felonies, 25% of burglaries and 34% of thefts are committed by illegal aliens.  The numerous crimes being committed by illegal aliens such as identity theft, fraud and use of false identification is causing havoc with record-keeping systems including but not limited to Social Security, income tax and other compilation of data that we have routinely relied upon for accuracy and identity verification.  Just about every day, municipal and state police come in contact with illegal aliens who are utilizing fraudulent documents, false names and other people’s identities.  Identification of these individuals is impossible and, quite frankly, many of the illegal aliens committing crimes here in the United States have criminal records from their country of origin which cannot be ascertained because of their continuous use of false identities.  Clearly, in addition to being a crime issue, the growing population of illegal aliens in the United States is without a doubt the single most important national security issue facing us.  As an example of that, in May 2002 federal agents arrested 2 Egyptian nationals for trying to smuggle illegal Middle Eastern immigrants into New Jersey by way of Mexico.  For a fee of $8,000.00, court documents showed the suspected smuggling ring flew customers on tourist visas to Brazil, then sent them to Guadamala through Mexico and finally across the southwest border into the U.S.  With regard to our northern border in Blaine, Washington, a retired Deputy Chief of Border Patrol Agent Eugene Davis stated recently that there has been no effort to locate 95% of aliens apprehended in his region over the past 10 years and released pending deportation hearings.  According to Davis, these illegal aliens have simply been allowed to disappear into the United States.  No one knows whether a number of these missing persons are trained terrorists who will emerge to perpetrate more acts of terrorism inside the United States. 

            Then, there is the direct cost to taxpayers as a result of the criminal acts committed by illegal aliens.  In Pennsylvania the financial cost to taxpayers is staggering.  Pennsylvania requested compensation from the federal government in fiscal year 1999 for the incarceration expenses for about 196,676 days of detention for illegal aliens in state and local jails and prisons.  The cost to Pennsylvania taxpayers amounted to $13,350,000.00.  Under the “State Criminal Alien Assistance Program” (SCAAP), Pennsylvania received $5 million leaving $8 million of uncompensated cost to be footed by Pennsylvania taxpayers.  In fiscal year 2000, Pennsylvania received $4.3 million.  Payments to the states were lower overall so local taxpayers were faced to absorb a much larger share of the cost of criminal illegal alien incarceration.  Clearly, illegal immigration into the United States is a negative and not a plus and must be addressed for a variety of the aforesaid reasons.  But the solution lies in empowering local and state police with the authority to arrest, detain and deport illegal aliens.  Clearly, the CLEAR Act, which you are considering today, would expressly authorize local and state law enforcement to investigate, apprehend, detain and remove aliens in the United States.  The CLEAR Act provides economic incentives and penalties for those municipalities and states who for whatever reasons do not recognize the seriousness of this problem and fail or lack the desire to help with this growing problem.  In Pennsylvania, not only in the Lehigh Valley where I serve as the District Attorney, law enforcement has taken an interest in identifying and removing illegal aliens.  There have been efforts in the Scranton Wilkes-Barre area by local police and in western Pennsylvania to deal with this issue but, unfortunately, local and state law enforcement at the present time have to rely on federal officials.  In the past, the federal government has not shown much interest in this issue.  For example, on a number of occasions, my office as well as local and state police have come into contact with illegal aliens who have admitted their illegal status and entry into the United States. When federal agencies such as the INS now ICE were contacted, we were often told that as long as these criminal aliens were not committing additional crimes, they should just be let go.  I have also been told that in the past INS discourages “this type of investigation.”  In other words, it is not enough for them to be aware of the fact that there are thousands of illegal aliens living in our communities, we are told that they must essentially be committing some other type of crime before the federal government would get involved.  When arrests are made by local police on state charges such as identity theft, etc. INS will often inform us that they are “not interested” in detaining and deporting these kinds of illegal immigrants.  For some reason, the federal government continues to believe that immigration violations by themselves do not warrant much enforcement.  In my view, this thinking must change and the CLEAR Act certainly is an indication from the Congress that the thinking has in fact changed.  The fact of the matter is that the cost to society from the impact of illegal aliens is so severe, we can no longer afford not to act or leave this problem exclusively to the federal government.  Local prosecutors, local and state police must be empowered, aggressive and diligent with respect to the presence of illegal aliens.  Although some may argue that most local police departments do not want to enforce immigration violations and have resisted the idea of using their officers to track down illegal immigrants, reasoning that crime fighting is better served by building relationships of trust in immigrant communities, I believe that now in the wake of September 11, 2001 a growing percent of law enforcement agencies around the country are beginning to equate illegal immigration and immigration enforcement with protecting national security and they want to be involved.  You have seen pilot programs in the state of Florida empowering local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws.  Implementation of the provisions of the CLEAR Act would, perhaps, make unnecessary the memorandums of understandings that some jurisdictions are seeking with the Justice Department in order to obtain power for state and local police to enforce immigration laws. 

            In summary, let me therefore state unequivocally that as a state prosecutor, I believe that this legislation is necessary.  However, I caution you that the ultimate success of this goal will be based upon the political will of both political parties here in Washington.  Quite frankly, I am not very optimistic.  I believe that both the Republicans and the Democrats are to blame for the present lack of enthusiasm on the part of the government to enforce immigration laws.  Business interests that often influence Republican Party politics clearly want cheap labor and often employ illegal aliens in menial jobs paid less than the minimum wage.  On the other hand, the Democratic Party continuously at the national level panders to ethnic politics.  Obviously, the CLEAR Act is not a panacea and we cannot overnight deal with the issue of the huge invasion of illegal aliens into America.  And, it is also clear that even with an aggressive approach to enforcement and passage of the CLEAR Act, we continue to have the problem of hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens invading our country on a regular basis through our northern and southern borders.  And lastly, there must also be attention to immigration judges who routinely, after local law enforcement has apprehended, arrested and prosecuted an illegal alien, often release these illegal aliens back out into the community on ROR or minimal bail with an order for them to deport.  Of course, these illegal aliens again disappear into American society, adopt a new false identity, a new false name and relocate to some other community.  Occasionally, we have seen the people that we have prosecuted come right back to my area resuming again their jobs, life under another name and another social security number.  The effort to clean up this mess cannot only be done legislatively via the CLEAR Act, but must recognize the other areas related to immigration enforcement that also must be addressed.  Nevertheless, the CLEAR Act is necessary because without an empowered municipal and local departments throughout the United States, the problem will continue to grow and get worse.

            I would like to thank the Chairman of the Committee and members of the Committee for inviting me to offer these comments today. 



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