Latino leaders urged Gov. Mark R. Warner today to veto legislation barring illegal immigrants from receiving in-state tuition rates at Virginia colleges. Administration officials and Warner's fellow Democrats said he favors vetoing the bill before a May 2 deadline for such action.
At a state Capitol news conference, Hispanic leaders, most from Northern Virginia's growing Latino community, said a Republican proposal denying cheaper in-state rates to people in the United States illegally would be unfair to a population that pays taxes, serves in the U.S. armed forces and performs other civic duties of legal residents.
"We want to continue the American dream," said Jorge E. Figueredo, co-chairman of the Springfield-based Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations. "If you are paying taxes, then you deserve to receive the in-state tuition status."
The chief sponsor of the tuition legislation, Del. Thelma D. Drake (R-Norfolk), said no special tuition benefit should be extended to undocumented students. She added that she fully expects Warner to veto her bill, HB 2339.
"The fact is these are people, no matter how sad the circumstances, who are not here legally," Drake said. "Why would you create a benefit for them?"
The GOP's election-year proposal passed by wide margins in the Republican-led General Assembly, but Warner sent it back this spring with an amendment that would have created an exception for about 150 students who could show they lived in the state for five years, graduated from a Virginia high school and intended to become citizens. Their parents also would be required to show they paid state taxes for at least three years.
The legislature rejected Warner's amendment, sending the full measure back to the governor, who can sign it into law, allow it to go on the books without his signature or veto it outright.
Since taking office last year, Warner has used his veto sparingly; his veto this year of a Republican proposal to abolish the estate tax was the second time he exercised the power on a major issue. That veto was upheld narrowly on April 2.
Warner was vacationing today and unavailable for comment, but his press secretary, Ellen Qualls, reiterated his objections to the measure.
"The governor obviously had grave concerns about the anti-immigrant motivations that may have been behind this legislation," said Qualls, who attended the news conference of Latino leaders.
As Warner has noted, states with large immigrant populations, such as California and Texas, as well as Maryland, have moved in the opposite direction of Virginia to expand in-state tuition availability to undocumented immigrants. Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has not announced his plans for the tuition bill passed by the Democrat-dominated assembly in Annapolis.
Publicly, Warner has disparaged the Drake bill and has been more critical in private conversations with fellow Democrats and other leaders, saying voter sentiment will be on his side should he veto the measure. In those discussions, Warner has noted that several Virginia military servicemen who have been killed or wounded in the war in Iraq have been illegal immigrants.
The Latino leaders' news conference coincided with a legislative hearing into the challenges that Virginia's immigrant influx poses to the state's educational system.
Robert G. Templin Jr., president of Northern Virginia Community College, told lawmakers that Drake's bill would have a "chilling effect" on the students and families working their way through the region's K-12 system of public schools.
About 40,000 students in Fairfax County speak English as their second language; about 100 of the 9,000 foreign nationals at NVCC are undocumented and pay out-of-state tuition, as required by state regulation, Templin said.
The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce has urged Warner to veto the bill, citing NVCC's "vital" role in job training for local companies.
The legislation, "in its current form, would be a miserable workforce policy for communities as diverse as Fairfax County," Chamber President William D. Lecos said in a letter to Warner.