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Virginia AG Rules Officers Can Check Immigration Status, Aren't Required

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In this Nov. 3, 2009, photo, Ken Cuccinelli waves at his victory party in Richmond after being elected state attorney general. (AP Photo)

Virginia's top prosecutor, after issuing a legal opinion that seemed to align his state with Arizona in the battle over local immigration enforcement, told Fox News on Monday that the two states' policies aren't a perfect match.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued a legal opinion Friday saying state law enforcement officers are allowed to check the immigration status of anyone "stopped or arrested." 

"It is my opinion that Virginia law enforcement officers, including conservation officers may, like Arizona police officers, inquire into the immigration status of persons stopped or arrested," he wrote.

But in an interview with Fox News' Greta Van Susteren, Cuccinelli underscored that in Virginia pursuing immigration offenses is up to the officers -- not required, as it is under Arizona's controversial immigration law.

"We are not mandating to our law enforcement that they make these inquiries on every stop," Cuccinelli said, noting that Arizona's law requires officers to check the immigration status of anyone stopped for other reasons when there is reasonable suspicion that they are in the country illegally.

A federal judge blocked Arizona from implementing that provision while the Obama administrations proceeds with its lawsuit seeking to strike down the Arizona law. The Obama administration argues that Arizona does not have the authority to enforce federal immigration laws on its own.

Cuccinelli also specified in his legal opinion that while state officers have the authority to arrest suspects on criminal immigration violations, they are advised against arresting over civil immigration violations. Overstaying a visa, for example, would fall under the latter category.

He wrote the opinion in response to a question from state Delegate Bob Marshall, who represents Prince William County. 

Marshall's county implemented a law that requires police to check the immigration status of everyone they arrest -- but not everyone they come in legal contact with.