Mar. 21, 2024

The Facts About Westmoreland’s Sanctuary Label

Regardless of party affiliation, political disposition or even personal values, it’s hard to ignore a very serious reality; the United States has an immigration issue.

According to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, there were nearly 2.5 million encounters at the southwest border in 2023, an increase over 40% since 2021 and a 100% increase since 2019.

As Americans, it’s important we acknowledge the difference between illegal and legal immigration. Most of our families have a lineage in legal immigration. After all, there is no better opportunity to enjoy freedom and prosperity than here in America – legally. 

While the problems associated with illegal immigration, such as surges in violent crime, may not be as readily visible in our home communities as they are in Pennsylvania cities, there has been a growing concern for residents in Westmoreland County. The matter concerned a questionable label by a third-party research organization that previously listed the county as a “sanctuary county.”

I was happy that county officials, after working with myself and a House colleague, took action to have that label removed.

The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) keeps a list of cities, counties and states that have laws or policies they believe impede immigration enforcement conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE). On their website, they claim such policies either refuse to cooperate with, or have roadblocks, to ICE-issued detainers on individuals who have been arrested on criminal charges and who ICE has probable cause to believe are removable non-citizens.

Speaking with Westmoreland County Commissioners about the topic, including Commissioner Doug Chew, who serves as the county prison board’s chair, it has always been the practice of prison officials to fully cooperate with federal authorities. The disconnect was that the practice was not officially documented as county policy.

Last year, Butler County was also on CIS’ list for being a sanctuary county. Similarly, county officials there did not impede federal immigration enforcement but also had no written policy that stated otherwise.

My friend and colleague Rep. Stephenie Scialabba, knowing that the label did not adequately reflect the will of Butler County’s residents, worked with Butler officials on adopting a formal policy. Once Butler County was removed from the CIS list, I connected Rep. Scialabba with Westmoreland officials.

The policy recently unanimously adopted by the Westmoreland County Prison Board, which includes Commissioner Sean Kertes, Commissioner Ted Kopas, Sheriff James Albert, District Attorney Nicole Ziccarelli, County Controller Jeffrey Balzer and Common Pleas Judge Harry F. Smail Jr., establishes that all ICE detainers are complied and lists of detainees are shared with ICE regularly.

On a related topic in Harrisburg, I have serious concerns with legislation offered by Rep. Danilo Burgos, a Philadelphia Democrat, that proposes to allow people in the United States illegally, and without documentation, to obtain a driver’s license. The Shapiro administration, through Transportation Secretary Mike Carroll, have expressed support for the proposal.

Giving someone here illegally a government-sanctioned ID creates obvious security issues and is a clear attempt to give documentation to someone who is undocumented. In doing so, the legal process of achieving American citizenship is weakened.

With these concerns, I will vehemently oppose this legislation should it be considered in the House chamber. 

We need not be afraid of those who seek to come to the United States to live peacefully, work hard and raise a family. These are the circumstances as to how our country was first established and has worked effectively for nearly 250 years.

Make Plans for April 8 Solar Eclipse - With Pennsylvania one of only 13 states in the “path of totality” for the April 8 total solar eclipse, residents and people planning to travel to the state are being encouraged to plan ahead for viewing this rare astronomical event.

The path of the eclipse will impact Pennsylvania starting at approximately 2 p.m. as the moon travels in front of the sun. At approximately 3:16 p.m. to 3:20 p.m., totality will occur in the northwest region, including Crawford and Erie counties, as well as portions of Mercer and Warren counties. At the same time, the remainder of the state will see the moon covering 90% to 99% of the sun. The eclipse will conclude at approximately 4:30 p.m. 

To assist Pennsylvania residents and out-of-state visitors traveling to the City of Erie, which will experience one of the longest periods of darkness, PennDOT has developed an event specific 511PA page at The page offers various suggested routes to help drivers traveling to the area during what is expected to be a high-traffic period.

To help find a location to watch the eclipse or learn about related events happening in the City of Erie and throughout Erie County, go to the VisitErie Eclipse 2024 page at

Specialty Crop Block Grant Program Open for Applications - The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is inviting proposals for 2024 Commonwealth Specialty Crop Block Grants to stimulate market growth or boost the competitive position for high-priority crops. 

Crops eligible for the grant program and deemed “high priority” include hardwoods; honey; hemp and flax for fiber; and hops, barley, rye and wheat for brewing, distilling and malting.

Also targeted for priority funding are crops not eligible for funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, which the department administers for the federal government. The USDA program defines specialty crops as, "fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops (including floriculture)."

Eligible applicants must submit a proposal describing how their project will enhance competitiveness or benefit Pennsylvania’s growers, rather than an individual grower. Find more information, including a proposal template, and map of previous recipients at under Commonwealth Specialty Crop Block Program.

Proposals must be submitted through the Department of Community and Economic Development's Electronic Single Application and can be found at and must be received by 5 p.m. on April 19.

Representative Jill Cooper
55th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Media Contact: Jordan Frei
724-875-8450 /