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Griffith responds to campaign criticism with legislative illegal immigration study

Rosalind Helderman

The Virginia legislature's audits and investigations arm will conduct a study of the procedures used by state agencies to ensure their contractors don't hire illegal immigrants.

Lawmakers adopted a resolution Tuesday asking the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to look into the issue, after an independent candidate for Congress accused a Virginia Department of Transportation contractor of hiring undocumented workers.

The candidate, Jeremiah Heaton, had accused his Republican opponent, House Majority Leader H. Morgan Griffith (Salem), of failing to ensure that VDOT's contractors hire only legal immigrants. Heaton and Griffith are both challenging Rep. Rick Boucher (D).

JLARC's investigation comes at the urging of Griffith, who sits on the commission.

"Obviously, I don't know if it's true," Griffith said. "But a person brought up a concern. He felt like they were illegal. Whether it's legitimate or not, it's something we ought to do."

"We do this for state employees," Griffith said. "We check to make sure they're legal. If someone's getting state money, we ought to see what processes we have in place to do these checks."

According to the Bristol Herald Courier, Heaton made the charges in a letter sent to Griffith and to news media in the district. Accompanying the letter was a video in which Heaton confronted VDOT workers on the side of the road about their immigration status.

The newspaper reported that the men seemed to attempt to explain they had guest worker visas. And the contractor that was the subject of Heaton's accusations said they were not true and "defamatory."

Griffith said he had initially planned to suggest a bill be proposed during next year's legislative session to study the issue. But JLARC director Glen Tittermary told him that the independent auditors would complete their other studies for the year Dec. 1 and could dispatch this issue quickly before they are assigned new work next year.

Sen. Chuck Colgan (D-Prince William), JLARC's chairman, proposed the resolution Tuesday on Griffith's behalf. With three weeks before the November election, Griffith did not travel to Richmond for the meeting.

Colgan said he was not aware that Griffith's request was sparked by a campaign issue. However, he said that JLARC generally agrees to any member's request for a study.

"I didn't see it as being political," Colgan said. "But we generally don't refuse a member's request."

The General Assembly adopted a bill last year to require state agencies to use the federal e-verify program to check the immigration status of all new hires. The bill as introduced would have required private employers and state contractors to use the program as well, but it was amended before passage.

Del. Dave Albo (R-Fairfax), who sponsored the bill and sits on JLARC, said he believes there could be state contractors who employ illegal immigrants. "What can happen is that the state could contract with some company, and they could go out and look the other way when they're hiring."

By Rosalind Helderman  | October 12, 2010; 2:53 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2010, House of Delegates, Immigration, Rosalind Helderman  
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