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Benefits for Illegal Immigrants Targeted

House Passes Bill to Deny Access to Medicaid Coverage and Other Services

By Chris L. Jenkins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 9, 2005; Page B05

RICHMOND, Feb. 8 -- The House of Delegates passed a measure Tuesday that would deny Medicaid and other benefits to illegal immigrants, one of several bills passed this session to limit their access to public services.

On the last day that delegates and senators could take up bills originating in their respective chambers, the House gave final approval to House Bill 1798, sponsored by Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax). The bill would require immigrants to supply proof that they are in the country legally before they could receive some state and local benefits.

The bill would not prevent illegal immigrants from receiving emergency medical care or disaster relief, but it would deny them regular coverage under Medicaid, the state-federal medical program for the poor and disabled. It also would prohibit them from receiving public retirement benefits or sharing in government contracts.

In interviews Tuesday, supporters said the state's resources should be used for legal residents, including immigrants who are in this country lawfully.

"These are taxpayer concerns," Albo said in an interview, adding that there were tens of thousands of illegal immigrants in the state who are a potential drain on state-funded services. "We have limited tax resources that we should be spending on citizens and legal aliens."

Albo also said the provisions in the bill are in line with federal law.

Opponents, including some lawmakers and advocates for immigrants, said that the bill is needlessly harsh and would place an undue burden on residents who would have difficulty gathering documents to prove that they are in the country lawfully.

"If they are here . . . we have an obligation to make sure to allow them to be healthy," said Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax), who voted against the measure. "But what you're also doing is sweeping in a lot of people who are in the process of getting their identification and papers to prove they are here legally."

Last week, the House passed legislation, sponsored by Del. Thomas D. Gear (R-Hampton), that would bar illegal immigrants from the state's colleges and universities. The bill is similar to one that passed the House last year that would have required colleges to turn away illegal immigrants and to expel those who were enrolled. Last year's bill was killed in a Senate committee. If the measure was enacted this year, Virginia would be the only state to ban illegal immigrants from public colleges and universities, immigrant advocates said.

The House also adopted a bill last week that would exclude illegal immigrants from most benefits available under the workers' compensation program. Under that bill, sponsored by Del. Kathy J. Byron (R-Lynchburg), workers who are in the country illegally would be eligible solely for medical benefits relating to injuries suffered on the job and would be excluded from vocational-rehabilitation benefits and death benefits.

To become law, all three bills must pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D).

Immigrant advocacy groups said the bills that passed the House are part of a disturbing trend. "What we're seeing here is a anti-immigrant climate in Virginia," said Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada (D), one of the few Latinos elected to public office in the commonwealth.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company