Va. Republican Bill Would Bar Illegal Immigrants From College

By Tim Craig
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 30, 2007

RICHMOND, Aug. 29 -- Virginia Republicans announced legislation Wednesday that would prohibit public colleges and universities from accepting illegal immigrants even if they attended a public high school and were brought to the United States at an early age by their parents.

GOP leaders, who control both houses of the legislature, suggested that some Virginia residents are being denied access to college because too many illegal immigrants are taking available slots.

"If a legal Virginia resident is applying to schools, should they be admitted? Or should that slot be set aside for someone who has arrived here illegally?" asked James K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr. (R-Fairfax), the sponsor of the proposal.

The Republican proposal would also require city and county jails to check a defendant's immigration status and to have at least one person on duty who has been certified by the federal government to detain illegal immigrants until deportation proceedings. It would also routinely deny bail for illegal immigrants charged in a crime and suspend the business licenses of anyone convicted of hiring illegal immigrants.

All 140 seats in the General Assembly are on the ballot this fall, and illegal immigration has been a key issue statewide -- particularly in Northern Virginia, where Republicans have been losing ground in recent elections.

Immigrant-rights activists, who say illegal immigrants aren't being admitted to Virginia colleges anyway, accused the GOP of trying to needlessly scare voters.

Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, a lobbyist for immigrant organizations, said the GOP "is taking advantage of a public misconception about the facts" and "exploiting fear and ignorance."

"It's poll-driven. It's cynical, and it's just silly," Gastanaga said.

The college admissions proposal, which comes as party leaders try to shift public attention from controversial abusive-driving fees, is part of a five-point plan presented by Republican legislators, including House Speaker William J. Howell (Stafford) and Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch (Henrico).

"Allowing illegal aliens to circumvent the rule of law not only undermines the integrity and wellbeing of our society and stretches thin limited taxpayer resources at all levels of government, but is an injustice to those immigrants who followed the lawful path in coming to Virginia and the United States," Howell said.

The proposals are more restrained than past statewide efforts to deal with illegal immigration.

Last year, the House of Delegates approved a bill that would cut off state funding for any charity found to be assisting illegal immigrants. Some GOP delegates are pushing separate proposals this year to cut off state funding to local governments that provide services to illegal immigrants. Governments in Prince William, Loudoun and Culpeper counties are trying to curb illegal immigration, too.

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