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Va. House Approves Bill On Illegal Immigration
The same scenario is playing out in other state capitals as a growing number of legislators are vowing to take the lead in stemming the flow of undocumented workers. In Texas, for example, lawmakers want to prohibit the children of illegal immigrants from working for the government, and they want to impose steep fees on money wired to Latin America, according to Governing Magazine.
But advocates for stricter immigration laws say the environment is particularly ripe in Virginia, which has a Republican-controlled legislature and growing public angst over the number of illegal immigrants.
"Virginia is receptive. There are a lot of people hearing from their constituents saying, 'This has got to stop,' " said William Buchanan, legislative director of the American Council for Immigration Reform. "All across Northern Virginia, communities are being swept away."
Some political strategists think immigration is a winning issue for Republicans heading into this fall's legislative races. Last fall, Miller narrowly won his seat in a special election in Prince William County in which illegal immigration was a major issue. "The problem is not with legal immigrants; they try to assimilate. The problem is the illegal aliens; they are not assimilating," said Bob Rudine, a member of Help Save Herndon.
But Claire Guthrie Castañaga, a lobbyist for the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, said the General Assembly is considering legislation that will "create a hostile environment for all people of color."
She pointed to proposals to give state and local police broader authority in seeking out people in the country illegally, including a proposal being championed by Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R). The bill, up for debate in the House on Wednesday, would give state and local officers investigating violent crimes the authority to detain illegal immigrants once they have an agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Under current law, police can detain illegal immigrants only if they are felons or have been deported. "Local law enforcement, like me, are frustrated we have no ability to enforce the laws, and our citizens are frustrated," McDonnell said.
Castañaga countered that the policy will lead to situations of racial profiling, in which police could stop anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. "This has implications for everyone who is an immigrant walking down the street, unless you have a sign that says, 'Hi, I am legal,' " Castañaga said.