State Legislation: Take Action on SB 10

This is the sixth in our series of action items to provide information about new issues threatening the people and organizations we represent in Pennsylvania. Today’s topic is SB 10. Through this bill, the Pennsylvania legislature seeks to compel Pennsylvania communities to use local resources to further the federal government’s immigration goals. It does so by two methods: First, it threatens to cut state funding to Pennsylvania municipalities if they decline to honor a detainer request by federal immigration agents. Second, it allows anyone injured in any way by someone released while an immigration detainer was pending—from a random car accident to a violent crime—to sue the municipality for that injury. And neither section provides a provision for municipalities to uphold the Constitution by demanding a warrant to hold Commonwealth residents.

Stripped away from its legalese, SB 10 seeks to commandeer local law enforcement officers to further federal immigration policy. It is a misguided law, it may be unconstitutional, and it would turn on its head Pennsylvania’s storied history—including its principled refusal to use state resources to further the Fugitive Slave Act—as a leader in guarding against the use of state law enforcement resources for the federal government’s illegitimate purposes.

What you should know:

SB 10 will make our Commonwealth less safe. It will force immigrants into the shadows, as they try to avoid law enforcement, even when they are witnesses to crimes, or even victims themselves. In fact, it will make undocumented immigrants—and those perceived as being undocumented—more prone to being victimized, as those who prey on them will know that the threat of calling the police could result in drastic, life-altering consequences. And should the law “succeed,” it will result in the separation of husbands from wives, parents from children, and neighbors from communities. Immigration is a complex issue that requires a complex solution. This law is not that.

SB 10 may also be unconstitutional. It seeks to force municipalities to hold detainees at the request of federal immigration officials without a warrant. While the Pennsylvania Constitution gives the General Assembly broad powers to enact legislation, that power is not unlimited. The Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits the General Assembly from adopting legislation that violates individual’s fundamental rights. Among the rights safeguarded from General Assembly action are the constitutional guarantees of article I, section 8—i.e., to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. These rights are fundamental. And as the Supreme Court has noted as recently as Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, a seminal environmental rights case, a local government’s protection of those constitutional rights itself deserves protection from the state legislature. None of this is mere speculation: As the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has made clear, municipalities have an obligation to follow the Constitution, regardless of whether immigration officials want someone detained.

The Public Interest Law Center has long been at the forefront of advocacy and litigation to ensure that the General Assembly does not infringe the fundamental rights of people who live in the Commonwealth. In 2014, in Applewhite v. Commonwealth, the Law Center, along with ACLU-PA, Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer and Advancement Project, successfully challenged the General Assembly’s photo identification law, which, like SB 10, was unconstitutional because it violated a fundamental right protected by the Pennsylvania Constitution.


Action is needed immediately. The Senate has passed SB 10, but that is only the start of the process. The House of Representatives is expected to take up a version of the bill soon. We believe the Governor could veto this law should it pass, but any vote to override that will be very close. Every Representative and Senator should be contacted

What you should do TODAY:

Call your State Representative and your State Senator today, and tell them that you oppose SB 10, or anything like it. The law is bad policy and will subject the Commonwealth to needless litigation if it becomes law.

**the Public Interest Law Center gratefully acknowledges the contribution of Lawyers for Good Government to the legal analysis in this post.

Previous Posts:

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Confirmation Hearings: Take Action on the Betsy DeVos Nomination

Confirmation Hearings: Take Action on the Scott Pruitt Nomination

Confirmation Hearings: Take Action on the Tom Price Nomination