By Jeannette Porter
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – On party-line votes in a packed hearing room, a House subcommittee has endorsed a legislative package that Republicans said will curb illegal immigration but opponents said may unfairly punish undocumented residents and promote discrimination.
The immigration subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee approved bills to make Virginia’s public colleges and universities spell out their policies against enrolling illegal immigrants; have the Virginia State Police enforce federal immigration laws; require public contractors to verify that their employees are legal U.S. residents; and check the immigration status of everyone arrested in Virginia.
Most of the bills were endorsed on 4-2 votes, with Republicans voting yes and Democrats no.
Nearly every seat in the 204-person-capacity room was taken, and a Capitol Police officer stood watchfully over the proceedings, as the subcommittee considered 17 immigration-related bills Friday. Thirteen of the proposals were approved (or were folded into related bills and then approved); they now will be considered by the full House Courts of Justice Committee.
Delegate Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, reflected the tenor of the Republican majority on the subcommittee in arguing for the employment verification requirement.
“The issue is being framed as one of meanness,” Miller said. “It’s not. If you’re here illegally, I want you to leave. I welcome you back legally with open arms.”
About half the audience applauded; they were called out of order by the subcommittee chairman, Delegate Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock.
The legislation’s opponents were equally impassioned. Danny Navarro of the Latino Student Alliance at the University of Virginia, for example, testified against the proposal to prohibit illegal immigrants from enrolling in state colleges and universities.
“This bill is an attempt to stunt the academic growth of undocumented immigrants,” Navarro said.
Gilbert opened the five-hour hearing by admonishing all present to be civil.
“I know these are issues of great importance to a lot of people in the room,” he said. “The two things we’re going to have today are order and civility. I’m going to try to enforce that at all times.”
College Enrollment: HB 1465
House Bill 1465, sponsored by Delegate Christopher Peace, R-Mechanicsville, would require public colleges and universities to have written rules against enrolling “an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.”
Peace said most state schools already have such a policy: “They don’t have to do anything but put it in writing.”
A long line of groups testified against the legislation. They ranged from Jews United for Justice to the Virginia Catholic Conference.
“We have earned the right to compete for admission,” Navarro said. “The immigration laws fail to address the ‘dreamers’” – the children of illegal immigrants who were brought here as young children and have grown up believing themselves to be Americans.
Juan Milanés of the Hispanic Bar Association agreed.
“These kids are dreamers because, more than anything, they want to be like you and me,” Milanés said. “These kids are trying to be here as productive members of society. They are not asking for an extra leg up.”
Gilbert responded, “The issue is finite resources. There are not enough slots in our public colleges and universities for our kids right now.”
“Who’s ‘our kids’?” Milanés shot back.
Claire Guthrie Castañaga, speaking for the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, said HB 1465 sends the message, “Hey, you have no opportunities after high school.”
Peace said undocumented aliens could still pay out-of-state tuition: “To say that this bill cuts off educational opportunity is hyperbole.”
After the discussion, the subcommittee voted 4-2 in favor of HB 1465. Republican Delegates Gilbert, David Albo of Springfield, Jackson Miller of Manassas and William Cleaveland of Roanoke voted yes; Democratic Delegates Vivian Watts of Annandale and Patrick Hope of Arlington voted no.
Enforcing Federal Laws: HB 1934
This bill, sponsored by Miller, would authorize the Virginia State Police to enter into an agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service. Under the arrangement (known as a “287g” agreement), the State Police would enforce federal immigration laws. Albo had filed HB 1420, which was the same as Miller’s bill; it was rolled into HB 1934.
Many people in the room wore buttons depicting “287g” in a red circle with a slash through it.
Luis Ayola, a Puerto Rican student at the University of Virginia, described being stopped and questioned by “cops who were incredulous that I had ID. I haven’t been detained yet, but I’m not waiting until that happens. I’m against 287g.”
“How long were you inconvenienced?” Hope asked Ayola.
“The first time, an hour,” Ayola answered. “The second time, 20 minutes.”
Beatriz Amberman of the Hispanic Community Dialogue Organization in Hampton Roads said that “turning State Police into ICE officials” will be expensive and undermine public safety.
“Increased enforcement will cost millions that the federal government will not reimburse. Can you assure us that local government won’t be burdened with the costs of this?” Amberman asked.
Ben Greenberg of Virginia Organizing, a nonprofit group that works with low-income communities, called the bill “an invitation to racial profiling.”
Michael McLaughlin of the American Council for Immigration Reform said there have been no confirmed instances of racial profiling under the 287g program. He called the legislation a “cost effective” way to deal with the “immigration problem.”
The subcommittee approved HB 1934 by the same 4-2 vote.
E-Verify: HB 1859, HB 1727
These proposals would require public contractors to use E-Verify to determine whether their employees are eligible to work in the U.S. E-Verify is a free, Internet-based service operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It can match an employee’s name against Social Security and other government records.
The subcommittee voted 4-2 for both bills after hearing testimony from all sides.
Ryan Baker, who described himself as “in the construction industry,” said such laws are needed.
“I see the effects of illegal immigration on a first-hand basis,” Baker said. He said contractors who hire illegal workers underbid other companies for government work.
“If you don’t have to pay unemployment insurance or the wages that U.S. citizens get, you can do things a lot cheaper,” Baker said. He said that hurts American workers: “Anything we can do in defense of that, I think we should do.”
Representatives of the tea party movement and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli also supported the E-Verify requirement.
Many groups opposed such a requirement, especially on local governments. They included the Coalition of Virginia Employers, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Retail Merchants Association, the Virginia chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League.
Opponents said the E-Verify program has a high error rate and puts more administrative responsibilities (with associated cost) on small employers.
Immigration Checks: HB 1430
This bill, sponsored by Albo, would ensure that police check the immigration status of everyone arrested in Virginia. A similar measure – HB 2332, by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, was rolled into HB 1430.
“My intent is that everybody who gets arrested gets checked,” Albo said. “Some sheriffs are only checking those who get bond or who are released on their own recognizance.”
Albo said the legislation would target just people being arrested: “We’re not seeking to do immigration checks on people on the street – only that everyone who gets taken before a magistrate gets checked.”
Many groups that opposed other legislation before the immigration subcommittee had no problem with HB 1430.
“It doesn’t go into effect unless there is probable cause for a warrant or a magistrate has seen the person,” Castañaga said. “It’s not a situation where a police officer picks someone up because ‘they don’t look right.’”
Still, some immigration advocates said they want to make sure that police don’t use the legislation as a pretext to ask people to prove they are legal residents.
The subcommittee voted 5-1 for HB 1430. Hope was the lone dissenter.
Recap of Immigration Bills
The immigration subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee considered 17 bills on Friday. Here is what happened to each bill:
House Bill 2153 (making illegal immigrations ineligible for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities) was rolled into HB 1465 (requiring such schools to establish written policies against enrolling illegal immigrants). The subcommittee then approved HB 1465, 4-2.
HB 2332 (requiring police to check the immigration status of people who are arrested) was rolled into HB 1430. HB 1430 then was approved, 5-1.
HB 1420 (authorizing Virginia State Police to enforce federal immigration laws) was rolled into HB 1934. HB 1934 then was approved, 4-2.
HB 1859 (requiring state government contractors to use the E-Verify program) was approved, 4-2.
HB 1727 (requiring all local governments and their contractors to use E-Verify) was approved, 4-2.
HB 2333 (giving E-Verify users a preference for state contracts in the event of a tie bid) was approved, 4-2.
HB 1421 (prohibiting state and local government employees from restricting the enforcement of federal immigration laws) was approved, 4-2.
HB 1468 (requiring local social services departments to verify that recipients of public assistance are legal U.S. residents) was approved, 4-2.
HB 1775 (requiring students enrolling in public schools to indicate the citizenship or immigration status of their parents) was approved, 5-1.
HB 1651 (stating that only U.S. citizens and legal residents can hold a Virginia driver’s license) was approved, 6-0.
HB 1914 (requiring the Virginia Employment Commission to use E-Verify on people seeking help finding a job) was tabled.
HB 1895 (fining employers or agents $250 a day for representing illegal aliens as eligible for employment) was tabled.
HB 1482 (requiring the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles to accept Virginia birth registration cards as proof of legal presence on applications for driver’s licenses) was withdrawn.