Lingamfelter says he asked Cuccinelli for immigration law analysis to avoid 'legislation by bumpersticker'
Virginia should lower the temperature of the illegal immigration debate and look for ways to pass effective laws on the issue that don't run afoul of federal powers or re-legislate issues already addressed by the General Assembly, Prince William Del. Scott Lingamfelter (R) said Monday.
Lingamfelter said that's why he asked Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) to do a legal analysis of legislation proposed by Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart that would essentially replicate a controversial Arizona statute that requires police officers to check the immigration status of anyone they stop for questioning if they have reasonable suspicion the person is in the country illegally.
Stewart's so-called "Rule of Law" legislation also would make it illegal to knowingly transport or harbor or otherwise aide illegal immigrants.
Stewart has essentially been campaiging on the need for the legislation, making it the centerpiece of his political identity as he looks at a run for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
But Virginia already has a law, adopted in 2008, that requires sheriff's departments to check the immigration status of anyone taken into custody by police and jailed. And Cuccinelli issued a legal opinion this summer in which he said it is legal for police officers to inquire into a person's immigration status upon stopping them, even if they are not arrested.
In his legal analysis--an unusual informal written dissection of legislation that has not yet been filed for consideration by the General Assembly, Cuccinelli wrote last week that he found large sections of Stewart's proposal to be duplicative of state law and unnecessary. Other portions, he said, could introduce broad new classes of felony crimes, were over-broadly drawn and could be preempted by federal powers.
"One of the things I'm trying to do as a legislator is get the temperature down, where we're looking at this rationally, with the goal of effective legislation," Lingamfelter said. "Legislation by bumpersticker doesn't work. You have to legislate with a great deal of energy devoted to the research."
I didn't have the expertise," he said. "I knew some of the things that were in there we had already addressed in law... And before we got in a huge back and forth on whether or not this works inside of Virginia's code, I just boxed it up and sent it to the attorney general and asked him if he could have his lawyers take a look."
Lingamfelter said he's still unsure if Prince William's policies on illegal immigration--widely perceived as the toughest in the state--actually result in those who are stopped or arrested by police being treated any differently than they are anywhere else in Virginia. He said he is trying to learn more about how, exactly, the county's policy and state law are being applied, to see whether there is room for legislation or not.
"We can't legislate by rhetoric," he said. "We've got to legislate based on actual activity on the ground."
Immigration advocates also have said Prince William's policy is duplicative of state law. "Either he's ignored of state law or he's deliberately deceiving people," said lawyer Claire Guthrie Gastanaga.
Stewart disagreed, saying the county's policy requires immigration checks to be conducted on anyone arrested, while the state law waits until the person is already in jail.
"Only half of the people arrested end up in jail, which means Prince William's policy is checking twice the number of people that other localities are checking at the jail level," he said.
Stewart said he decided to push the Prince William policy instead of Arizona's after a University of Virginia study showed the county's policy has had some impact on illegal immigration. He also said the county's policy was reviewed by a federal district court judge in 2007 and was found to be legal and constitutional.
"I was very surprised by Cuccinelli's opinion," Stewart said. "I'm attacked by a lot of pro-amnesty and liberal groups because of my position on illegal immigration, but I never expected to be attacked from the rear by a fellow conservative."
"Cuccinelli has been less than helpful on this issue," Stewart said. "His opinion expresses fear of being challenged in court. ...I don't care who challenges me on this-if it's Cuccinelli or the pope- I am not going to back down."
Those are likely to be fighting words for Cuccinelli, who is suing the Obama administration over the federal health care law.
"I think the attorney general's record regarding the federal government speaks for itself," Cuccinelli spokesman Brian Gottstein said. "This is not a personal opinion about the legislation. This is a legal opinion on the merits of the proposed legislation."
Rosalind S. Helderman and Jennifer Buske
| November 29, 2010; 12:50 PM ET
Categories: Corey Stewart, Immigration, Ken Cuccinelli, Rosalind Helderman
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