Illegal Immigration Issues Attract Little Interest Outside N.Va.

By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 15, 2008

RICHMOND, March 14 -- A divided Virginia General Assembly killed most proposals to crack down on illegal immigration during its annual session, despite legislators' repeated pledges to address the growing population in last fall's campaign.

Of the 130 immigration bills introduced, only a handful passed before the legislature finished Thursday. The bills that would have penalized illegal immigrants died during the session, a sign that the issue lacks a sense of urgency statewide.

"I think the problem here is that there are not enough localities that are feeling the same pain as exploding localities like Prince William," said Del. Paul F. Nichols (D-Prince William). "It's frustrating."

Bills that passed will deny bail to illegal immigrants charged with a crime, require jails to check the legal status of those taken into custody and prohibit government contractors from hiring illegal immigrants.

Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D), who has often said that immigration policy generally should be left up to the federal government, has signed all three bills.

"Bills dealing with behaviors that threaten public safety ought to be taken very seriously," Kaine said. "Beyond that, you've got to be very careful."

The number of immigration bills introduced in the two-month legislative session was the highest in recent years. More than 100 originated from the Republican-controlled House, where many were approved before the Democrat-controlled Senate killed them.

"The Democratic majority in the Senate "recognized that there was some demand and something had to be done. What came out was just above window dressing," said Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II (R-Fairfax), who introduced several immigration measures. "They wanted to pass just enough to try to release a good portion of the political pressure. Their goal was not to accomplish anything."

Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) accused House members of trying to use the immigration issue to solicit votes in next year's legislative election.

"I'm not into building guys' campaign brochures, and neither was anybody else," Saslaw said.

Bills that failed would have allowed employers to fire workers for misconduct if they speak a language other than English, banned illegal immigrants from public colleges and universities, required that driver's license exams be conducted in English and required that home buyers prove they are in the country legally to qualify for a mortgage.

Del. Jackson H. Miller (R-Manassas) introduced proposals that would have required defendants to pay for language interpreters in court if convicted and would have forbid taxpayer money from being given to charities that provide services to illegal immigrants.

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