House Republicans promised to get tough on illegal-immigration issues this year but ended the session having passed no major legislation.
Bills were introduced to create new regulations in many areas, including business, education, criminal justice and voting. Employers would have to vouch for their workers.
Last year’s statewide elections brought the topic to the forefront of legislative debate.
A proposal for a tax-supported “day labor” center in Herndon where Hispanic immigrants, many of them undocumented, would gather daily to be hired generated national headlines and an issue for the fall campaigns.
Del. John S. Reid, R-Henrico, a leader of the anti-illegal-immigration lawmakers, said the House Republicans were responding to residents’ concerns raised during the campaigns.
Also, lawmakers said they were stepping in to fill a void created by federal officials, whom they blasted for failing to deal with the issue.
“This generation of immigrants is different from previous ones in that they don’t seem to be as willing to wait and go through the process,” Reid said last week. “If you look at the 1920s or 1930s, it seems that those immigrants were willing to wait. Today, that doesn’t seem to be the case.”
Over the next year, Reid said he plans to holds forums across the state about immigration and “tighten up” some of this year’s proposals.
The debate about whether illegal immigrants should attend or receive in-state tuition at public colleges and universities garnered the most attention. One of Reid’s bills sought to bar illegal immigrants from getting resident tuition.
However, he withdrew his bill amid legal questions. State Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., R-Augusta, initially introduced a similar bill to Reid’s but altered his to allow the preferential tuition for certain illegal immigrants seeking legal status.
Hanger said he made the change after hearing that Gov. Timothy M. Kaine would not sign legislation that penalized children for the actions of their parents. Three years ago, then-Gov. Mark R. Warner vetoed a similar bill because of concerns it would unfairly hurt children of immigrant parents who brought them to the United States as youngsters.
Reid sought an attorney general’s opinion about the effect of Hanger’s bill. While he’s still awaiting a final opinion, a preliminary one from a deputy attorney general contends that the bill might conflict with federal law in such a way as to require that all students, whether or not they live in Virginia, be eligible for in-state tuition. That would cause the state to lose millions of dollars in out-of-state tuition.
Hanger called the debate surrounding the bill “an educational process” and said it “opened a conversation” with immigrant-advocacy groups. He has several meetings scheduled with Hispanic leaders.
“It’s not an issue that’s going to be resolved without putting pressure on the federal government to make decisions about immigration that make sense,” he said in an interview Friday.
It’s the responsibility of the federal government, not state legislatures, to address immigration, advocates say.
“A lot of people here are saying we’re doing to this to send a message to Washington,” said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, a lobbyist who represents immigrant groups. “That’s not the right way to handle it. You don’t pass legislation and put stuff in the Virginia Code to send a message to Washington.”
Pamela Stallsmith is a staff writer at Media General’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.