A Senate subcommittee rejected 10 illegal immigration–related bills late Wednesday to the cheers of the many Hispanic Virginians who filled the hearing room.
The committee rejected bills that would require businesses and localities to check on the immigration status of new workers; ensure that law enforcement checks the immigration status of those arrested; would count the number of undocumented children attending public schools; and that would have prevented undocumented students from attending Virginia’s public universities and colleges.
“I feel very proud of living in Virginia. I think common sense triumphed today,” said Beatriz Amberman, president of the Hispanic Community Dialogue Organization of Virginia.
She said the senators proved that they care about the future of the Commonwealth. Hispanic Virginians want criminals to be punished, but they also want to work with law enforcement and build trust between police and the Hispanic community so that victims of crime feel safe to report abuse or other violence, she said.
Still, others were disappointed in the result.
“It’s unfortunate most members of this committee have voted to support special interests rather than the people of Virginia,” said John Kwapisz, of the American Council for Immigration Reform.
He testified to support several of the bills because he said the country’s immigration laws need to be strengthened and enforced.
He argued in favor a bill that would require the state to work with Immigration and Customs Enforcement to place deportation retainers on some illegal immigrants charged with serious crimes. He said the customs officers need the help of local and state police.
Others argued in favor of requiring school districts to determine whether students are undocumented in order to better measure the cost to taxpayers for educating students who don’t speak English as their first language.
Two bills managed to survive the almost three-hour hearing.
Senators changed a bill that would have required all private businesses and localities to use the federal E-Verify system to ensure new workers are eligible to work in the United States. The new version matches a bill the Senate already approved requiring Virginia businesses that would contract with the state to use the federal E-Verify system by the end of 2013.
E-Verify bills continue to surface in the General Assembly even though the system is not very accurate, said Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations.
She said the bill the Senate supported was narrower in scope than the three bills the House supported.
The committee also advanced a bill that would allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to cancel the valid drivers’ license of anyone who was deported.
The lone two bills will now go to the full Senate for consideration.
Many of the rejected bills died due to lack of a motion or a second, including a bill that Delegate Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, sponsored.
He wanted to take statewide a program that Prince William County currently uses allowing its law enforcement officers to work with immigration officers to deport serious criminals. Miller wants the program in state law so that the state police can work with federal immigrations officers as well. That would also ensure that a new governor would not eliminate the program, Miller said.
Currently, Gov. Bob McDonnell could sign up for the program with an executive order, said Senator John Edwards, D-Roanoke.
Miller said this is one opportunity Congress has given to state and local governments to help enforce federal laws.
He said without the bill, a man who was accused of raping a toddler in Fairfax County may not have been released from a neighboring county’s jail and then could not have hurt the girl.
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