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Pennsylvania State Immigration Laws

Welcome to FindLaw's coverage of Pennsylvania's immigration laws. Remember that any meaningful discussion of immigration must always be preceded by a discussion of state and federal laws.

Below, you will find information on immigration checks by law enforcement in the state. You'll also find information about educational institutions' policies on migrants. Also, you'll encounter information about immigration-related issues in employment contexts. This article also covers issues related to E-Verify rules. It also addresses restrictions on public benefits based on a person's immigration status.

Immigration is a controversial subject in this country. And a sharp divide exists between who has immigration enforcement power and what role local law enforcement should play, if any. State and local law enforcement have recently faced whether they should assume a greater role in enforcing federal immigration laws.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced sweeping changes to the U.S. immigration system. With these new changes in effect, it's important to know as much as possible about immigration in the United States.

Continue reading to learn more about immigration in the state of Pennsylvania.

Law Enforcement and Immigration in Pennsylvania

A Trump-era federal program once required that all arrestees be fingerprinted and their names run through a federal database. This database checked their criminal record and immigration status. The program was "Secure Communities." President Trump renewed the program by executive order in 2017. But President Biden revoked that executive order in 2021. The program is no longer in effect. The new program is the "Criminal Apprehension Program." Only the names of those who have been arrested and deemed to threaten public safety are run through a database that checks immigration status.

Employment Checks

Refer to federal employment eligibility verification rules and the rules for Form I-9.

Hazelton denies permits to businesses that knowingly hire undocumented immigrants.

Pennsylvania E-Verify Requirements

Private employers are not forced to use the E-Verify system to check employees' or applicants' immigration status. Public employers must do so. Learn more about E-Verify at E-Verify.gov or FindLaw's page on the subject.

Driver's License/ID Requirements

You'll need a Social Security card to get a driver's license or state identification card.

Public Benefits Restrictions

Under federal law, illegal immigrants can't get most public benefits. But they can get emergency services. They can also get emergency health care and other programs "necessary to protect life and safety."

Education Checks

Pennsylvania has no state-wide policy about whether undocumented immigrants may pay in-state tuition. But Penn State University allows undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition, including DACA recipients. Permanent residents must only pay in-state tuition.

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It protects eligible young adults from deportation after their parents brought them to the United States as children. It also gives these young adults work authorization for limited periods. Those periods of work authorization are renewable. For more information about DACA, review FindLaw's What is DACA: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals? You can also learn more about DACA by reviewing USCIS's FAQ page on the program.

Voter ID Rules

Throughout the country, voting rights are a major topic. There is no state-mandated voter identification rule. But if you are voting for the first time in your election district, you will have to show ID.

Housing Ordinances and Immigration

Hazelton attempted to levy fines against landlords who knowingly rent housing to undocumented people. In 2014, a federal court struck down the ordinance, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Pennsylvania State Immigration Laws: Related Resources

If you or someone you know is facing an immigration-related problem, consider speaking with an attorney. Also, consider reviewing the following resources:

  • Know Your Rights — Guide to protecting yourself and your family during immigration raids

Protect Your Rights as an Immigrant in Pennsylvania: Meet with an Attorney

Immigration question in Scranton? Wanting a green card in Philadelphia? You'll have to follow federal immigration laws first, but state laws may affect your situation. Visit FindLaw's directory of attorneys to find a skilled immigration lawyer. These attorneys can explain the laws and how they might apply to your situation.

It is difficult to navigate the immigration process on your own. It's always a good idea to seek the legal advice of an immigration attorney. If you can't afford an attorney, there are still free or low-cost options for qualifying people. Non-citizens may also seek a referral from the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center (PIRC) or HIAS. The PIRC is a non-profit organization that offers many services to migrants in the state, even those here on a non-immigrant visa and victims of domestic violence. It also offers legal services with attorneys on staff. The organization also helps with refugee resettlement.

Vulnerable immigrants should seek the help of immigration lawyers. They can help you navigate any immigration process. Such processes include any dealings you engage with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Immigrants' rights are important. And if you can't afford an attorney, you can find lawyers who will work pro bono. They can help with presenting yourself in an immigration court.

The federal government dictates most aspects of immigration law. But the states each have their own freedoms to determine certain aspects of state law, including immigration law.

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