Immigration, Un-Wedged
A Virginia panel opts for a reasonable approach to immigration.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION does not seem to be the effective wedge issue in Virginia that some politicians once hoped it would be. One percent of likely voters rated immigration the most important issue in Virginia, according to a Washington Post poll taken before this year's election; the share was nine times larger last year. Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R), notoriously hostile to illegal immigrants, lost to Democrat Tom Perriello in an upset in Virginia's 5th District, which stretches from Danville to Charlottesville.

State lawmakers should take these results as a warning. Legislators squandered energy and tax dollars by introducing an abundance of immigration bills during their last session. Many of the bills were more punitive than constructive; few were voted on, let alone approved.

Lawmakers in search of a pragmatic approach can find inspiration in the findings of the Virginia Commission on Immigration. The commission, a coalition of state leaders, studied immigration for more than a year. As The Post's Anita Kumar reported, the commission will recommend in coming weeks that the state offer more English classes, make it easier for immigrants to receive Medicaid benefits and offer in-state college tuition rates to qualifying immigrants. Panel members also rejected unreasonable proposals that have gained traction in the past, such as requiring immigrants to carry special identification cards.

The panel's conclusions suggest a shifting attitude toward immigration, in Virginia as nationwide. According to a recent statewide survey by the Mason Project on Immigration and the Center for Social Science Research at George Mason University, 44 percent of Virginians believe "unauthorized immigrants" should be able to become citizens if they're employed, compared with 29 percent who do not. And, as the Wall Street Journal reported, 10 of the 13 House Republicans who were ousted in the Nov. 4 elections belonged to the Immigration Reform Caucus, a group that fervently opposes citizenship for illegal immigrants.

With the economic crisis dominating headlines, the incoming Obama administration may postpone another attempt at immigration reform. But reform is as needed as ever. Only the federal government can get the job done, and the political climate may be more favorable than last time around.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company