RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) vetoed a bill Monday that would have prohibited the establishment of sanctuary cities, an issue that dominated his race for governor last year.
The bill was a single sentence: “No locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.”
Northam suggested the legislation would require Virginia cities and towns to shoulder the burden of enforcing federal immigration law, either by deputizing local police or by holding undocumented inmates in local lockups. He called the measure “unnecessary and divisive.”
“This legislation would force local law enforcement agencies to use precious resources to perform functions that are the responsibility of federal immigration enforcement agencies,” Northam wrote in a statement accompanying the veto. “It also sends a chilling message to communities across Virginia that could have negative impacts on public safety.”
Del. Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge), who sponsored the bill, said the measure was intended only to ban localities from interfering federal immigration actions, not press them into service.
“Ensuring that Virginia localities abide by federal immigration laws is a matter of public safety and upholding the rule of law, “ Cline said. “Governor Northam’s veto of my bill to ban sanctuary cities in Virginia is indefensible.”
The General Assembly will have a chance to override Northam’s veto when it reconvenes for its “veto session” April 18. But it is unlikely to do so because the measure passed both chambers narrowly.
Northam walked a fine line on illegal immigration during the race for governor last year, when Republican rival Ed Gillespie accused him of being soft on sanctuary cities and MS-13 gang members.
Northam generally dismissed the claims as political bluster since Virginia has no declared “sanctuary cities,” a term generally used to mean localities that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
But at one point during the campaign, Northam said he would support a ban on sanctuary cities if any sprang up in Virginia.
Cline said the governor and other critics of his bill have misinterpreted it as an effort to force localities to participate in programs with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), such as the one Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey A. Kincaid quit in January. Under the contract launched in 2012, the county kept inmates targeted by ICE for as many as 48 hours beyond their release dates.
Kincaid noted at the time that Fairfax already complies with a state law requiring localities to determine whether inmates are in the country illegally and, then, enter that information into a state database made available to ICE.