In the 44 months that he has been in office, Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) has issued 27 executive orders declaring states of emergency. These orders have allowed him to bypass normal bureaucratic channels to deploy people and resources quickly in response to a threat.
By Warner's lights, the commonwealth has faced dire threats from hurricanes Katrina, Isabel, Jeanne, Ivan and Charley, and from Tropical Storm Gaston. He also has deemed ice, droughts, tornadoes, floods and the threat of significant rain to be crisis conditions, along with an economic crisis in Henry County, a water shortage in Buchanan and Tazewell counties, and a tire fire in Roanoke County. But when two Northern Virginia legislators asked Warner to recognize the state of emergency created by illegal immigration in this area, the governor's spokesman characterized the lawmakers' concerns as "much ado about nothing."
Really? According to the 2000 Census, 11 percent of Virginia residents speak a primary language other than English, and the majority of those individuals live in Northern Virginia. Consider the strain this places, for example, on public education.
"Limited English-Proficient" (LEP) is the polite term for students who mostly are illegal immigrants or the children of illegal immigrants. A 2001 Brookings Institution study placed this population in Northern Virginia schools at 31,000 -- accounting for one in four students in Arlington and one in five students in Alexandria. Fairfax alone had more LEP students than all the schools in Maryland's Washington suburbs combined.
Since the study in 2001, that number has surged. The U.S. Department of Education says the state's public schools now have 60,000 LEP students. Although the school population has grown 10 percent since 1995, the number of LEP students has increased 163 percent. The cost to taxpayers of educating those youngsters approaches $100 million a year -- three times the annual budget of Virginia's Department of Technology.
Most illegal immigrants are hard-working people, but significant numbers are not. Ten percent of Virginia's inmates are illegal immigrants. The savage MS-13 gang from Central America, which threatens Northern Virginia, has infiltrated the Shenandoah Valley. By what logic does the governor declare a state of emergency when certain areas flood, but not when gangs flood into other areas?
To his credit, Warner signed into law this year a measure that denies public benefits to individuals residing in Virginia illegally. But that addresses only part of the problem. The Center for Immigration Studies estimates that one in every 10 births in the United States is to an illegal immigrant. In the Washington suburbs, that figure may be as high as one in four. Because children born on U.S. soil automatically become citizens, these "anchor babies" qualify for welfare, Medicaid, Social Security stipends and other public benefits. How much of a burden does this have to become before it is considered an emergency?
If Virginia elects Democrat Timothy M. Kaine as its next governor, the problem is likely to become worse. Kaine supports allowing illegal immigrants to attend Virginia's colleges and universities -- even subsidizing them with in-state tuition rates -- as long as they "make efforts" to become citizens after they turn 18.
When Republican nominee Jerry W. Kilgore opposed Herndon's decision to use taxpayer money to provide a center for day laborers, many of whom are illegal immigrants, Kaine characterized Kilgore's position as a "mean-spirited effort to go after people who are trying to make a living." But drug dealers and prostitutes are just trying to make a living, too. So were the executives at Enron, Tyco and WorldCom. Why should immigrants be uniquely exempt from the requirement to earn a living within the law?
Everyone sympathizes with the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Many -- probably most -- Americans welcome lawful immigrants, yet they oppose illegal immigration. That does not make them xenophobes, misanthropes or racists. It is worth noting that Republican Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick of Prince William, one of the two delegates who requested that Warner declare a state of emergency concerning illegal immigration, is the only Latino representative in the Virginia House.
The Manassas City Council also is considering asking the governor to declare a state of emergency. Other localities besieged by illegal immigrants may follow.
Here's hoping they can convince Warner that Northern Virginia's immigration problem is as serious as hard times in Henry County.