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Debate continues in Virginia over immigration enforcement

Anita Kumar

A longtime immigration advocate and lobbyist blasted Corey Stewart, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, for proposing legislation Thursday that she said would "go far beyond the Arizona law by criminalizing even the simple act of seeking shelter by a person here without authority."

Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, a former chief deputy attorney general of Virginia, said Stewart's proposal will "foster nothing but a disrespect for the law, do nothing to make us safer, will render people homeless and hungry, will tie up our courts with frivolous lawsuits by vigilantes and interfere with the ability of law enforcement to focus on real crimes and real criminals."

Stewart introduced a proposal, dubbed the Virginia Rule of Law Act, earlier Thursday that would enhance police officials' power to capture, detain and deport illegal aliens; curb illegal day laboring; and create specific state penalties for illegal immigrants.

Virginia, known for some of the nation's toughest policies on illegal immigration aside from Arizona, has nearly 40 laws on the books affecting immigrants, some of which cover issues addressed in Stewart's proposal. They include requiring clerks of court officials, sheriffs, parole officers and others to report any illegal immigrants who are convicted of crimes; asking law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of every person taken into custody; and creating a presumption against bail for persons found to be in the country illegally.

In recent years, the General Assembly and the Virginia Commission on Immigration stepped back from its once hard-line approach on the issue because of the growing economic crisis, a clearer understanding of the state's limitations on a largely federal issue and backlash at the voting booth.

Gastañaga said some provisions included in Stewart's proposal have been studied thoroughly by state officials and rejected as unconstitutional or unworkable.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) said late today that he does not think U.S. District Judge Susan R. Bolton's decision to issue an injunction blocking parts of the Arizona law from going into effect today is a "complete defeat."

Cuccinelli (R), who filed a friend of the court brief along with attorneys general in eight other states supporting the Arizona law, said that "while some accounts have painted Judge Bolton's preliminary injunction ruling as a complete defeat of Arizona's efforts to protect its residents, a careful review of the order reveals that this greatly overstates the impact of the ruling."

By Anita Kumar  |  July 29, 2010; 6:12 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , Corey Stewart , House of Delegates , Immigration , Ken Cuccinelli , State Senate  
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