Virginia House passes several bills fighting illegal immigration
Virginia's House of Delegates gave final approval Tuesday to a package of bills designed to crack down on illegal immigration, including a measure based on Prince William County's policy that would require all state and local law enforcement officials to inquire of the immigration status of any person they arrest.
"My thoughts are I regret that this is what it's come to," said Del. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) who sponsored the most controversial measure based on Prince William County's policy. "I regret that the federal government has been so derelict in their duty that they have not enforced the laws of our land."
The Republican-ruled House also passed other immigration-related bills on crossover day -- the final chance for the Senate and House of Delegates to complete work on bills originating in each chamber -- that would order colleges and universities to adopt written policies barring illegal immigrants from enrollment, require schools to begin tallying the numbers of immigrant children on their rolls, and force large state contractors to use the E-Verify electronic background check.
Still others would push the Virginia State Police to join a federal-state program used to enforce immigration laws, boost the criminal penalties for dealing in fake birth certificates, and require local social services departments to ensure that the recipients of benefits are not illegal immigrants. Another bill targets local jurisdictions that have gained a reputation as so-called sanctuary communities by directing their police and other officials to overlook immigration status.
Even the Democratic-led Senate, which generally looks askance at many such bills and will likely kill a number adopted by the House, unanimously adopted a bill Tuesday to require public contractors to use the E-Verify computer system to confirm that their employees are legally present in the United States. Because the House adopted a similar measure, it is likely to go to the governor for signature.
The Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations (VACOLAO) warned Tuesday that the bill modeled on Prince William -- sponsored by Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) -- goes farther than Arizona's controversial law allowing police greater latitude to detain illegal immigrants.
"It's worse in one respect because it's entirely subjective," said VACALAO lobbyist Claire Guthrie Gastanaga. She said unlike a similar bill sponsored by Del. David Albo, Lingamfelter's amended bill does not specify that police must consult a database to conclude that the person is not lawfully present in the U.S. Instead, Lingamfelter's bill only requires police to inquire about a person's status.
Lingamfelter strongly denied the allegation, saying political opponents hope to stir a backlash against the measure similar to the uproar over the law Arizona passed last year.
"That's nonsense. It's a liberal talking point to get steam behind their point of view," Lingamfelter said. He said police are directed to inquire of a person's immigration status only after they have found probable cause to make a lawful arrest for some other conduct, a policy Lingamfelter said Prince William has been following since adopting its own policy to fight immigration. "All this does is take what Prince William has validated and legally vetted and put into law," Lingamfelter said.
Gastanaga also took aim at HB1465, sponsored by Del. Christopher Peace (R-Hanover), that would crack down on illegal immigrants in the state's institutions of higher learning.
Peace and other supporters argue that it is only fair that the highly competitive slots available at the University of Virginia and other state institutions should be reserved for those who are lawful citizens. Opponents argue that many undocumented immigrants who attend college were brought to the U.S. as children and could be penalized for no fault of their own.
As initially written, Peace's bill would have made undocumented immigrants ineligible for admission to state colleges and universities. An amended version only requires schools to adopt written policies prohibiting the "enrollment" of such students. Gastanaga said the amendment is a distinction without a difference -- and could have even broader consequences by targeting such students who have already enrolled.
--Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this item.
| February 8, 2011; 4:13 PM ET
Categories: General Assembly 2011, Immigration
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