Philly freshman GOP state rep. Martina White got a swift and angry response from local media after she introduced legislation that would prohibit Philly’s sanctuary city status.
Spanish-language newspaper Al Dia accused her of quoting a “hate group,” she was called “Martina White Power” by the Tattle Tot news blog, and KYW described her bill as “anti-immigration legislation.”
White called these reports attempts to “distract” from her bill, and denied any anti-immigrant or hateful motivation.
“I'm a very fair person and I think anyone who has ever met me would say the same,” said White, 27, who represents the 170th district in Northeast Philly. “It’s aggravating when people try to distract from the real issues. I get it, but it’s important that these issues get addressed.”
White’s bill, HB 1885, would apply statewide and hold sanctuary cities “liable” for damages to people or property caused by “unauthorized aliens.” It also would prohibit restrictions on not notifying federal immigration authorities about potential illegal immigrants, letting law enforcement ask people about their immigration status or requesting proof of eligibility in state benefits applications.
During a March 23 press conference on the legislation, White quoted research from the D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) which found illegal immigrants cost Pennsylvania $1.3 billion a year in public services, such as schools, health care and criminal justice.
What she didn’t know was that FAIR is designated as a “hate group” by the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
“I never heard of them before,” she told Metro of the SPLC. “I can tell you, from now on I’ll be using government sources.”
The SPLC designates hate groups and has them listed on a “hate map.” But FAIR doesn't agree with that characterization, said their president, Dan Stein.
“The SPLC is not an agency of the US government. They are a partisan and very extreme, rigid ideological organization that opposes every form of immigration enforcement and limitation,” Stein said.
Stein described the “hate group” designation as “smears and name calling” based on out-of-context quotes and misunderstandings.
But the SPLC stands firm by its designation. SPLC Senior Fellow Mark Potok called Stein’s defense “baloney.”
“The founder of FAIR… was very explicit about FAIR being created essentially as a white nationalist organization, an organization that was defending a white majority,” Potok told Metro. “I understand Dan Stein doesn’t like it, but there’s certainly nothing he’s said in any way that would make us draw back. We think the evidence is indisputable.”
To White, the need for the legislation arose from constituent concerns.
“When our mayor declared Philadelphia a sanctuary city, the people in my district were calling and saying ‘Is this real? Is he really doing this?’” White recalled. “These are people who are concerned about the safety of our communities.”
Despite White’s defense, community organizer Nicole Kligerman of the immigrant rights group New Sanctuary Movement said she considers the legislation to be hate speech.
“If Martina White thinks that a one-year nine-month-old fleeing one of the most dangerous places in the world shouldn't have access to education, that is antithetical to everything this country is ostensibly built on,” Kligerman said. “This is further criminalizing and scape-goating immigrants as a cheap way to get votes. Like Trump, they see an uptick in popularity every time they blame immigrants for our failing economy.”
White however asserted that sanctuary cities create a risk to public safety, citing that since 2011, nationwide 250,000 illegal immigrants have been arrested for a variety of crimes.
“The fact that declaring Philadelphia a sanctuary city puts our city in more danger by drawing that criminal element here – it’s just wrong,” White said. “I’m standing up for the people in my district.”