POLITICS

Virginia Lawmakers Target Illegal Immigrants

Attending public schools, working and using social services will get a lot harder for illegal immigrants in Virginia if Republicans in that state get their way.

Republican legislators are pushing bills that would call for public employees to check the immigration status of every child in public schools, as well as those who use social services.

House Republicans said Tuesday they will have attorneys look over the proposals to make sure they are constitutional so as to avoid a legal battle like the one in Arizona over a strict new immigration law.

One bill calls for checking the immigration status of every child in public schools. Proposals also call for checking the status of a student’s parents, and forwarding that information to state officials. Another would allow the governor to withhold money from any locality or agency that limits enforcement of immigration laws.

Virginia legislators also are considering whether to bar illegal immigrants from enrolling in the state's public colleges and universities.

One bill, introduced last week, would amend state law to explicitly prohibit people who are in the United States illegally from being admitted to Virginia's public two-year or four-year institutions. Federal law prohibits such people from paying in-state tuition at colleges and universities, but they can still pursue a public college education.

Virginia's public two- and four-year institutions currently have the discretion to decide whether to admit illegal immigrants as long as they charge them out-of-state tuition. Policies vary from school to school.

"The reason why we should bring some uniformity to the policy is rooted in the greater issue: How do we create incentives and disincentives for people to be here legally?" said Christopher Peace, R-Mechanicsville.

Several earlier attempts in Virginia to pass similar legislation haven't succeeded, including a bill Peace introduced in 2008. But he thinks it's a good time to revisit the issue as part of a larger effort to take a harder line on illegal immigration, which he says continues to worsen.

Peace also noted that "it's an election year, and we need to know where people stand with regard to illegal immigration. None of us wants to get into the emotional side of the issue, but do we believe that the taxpayers should be paying to support illegals?"

He also cited the defeat in Congress of the Dream Act, which would have provided a pathway for hundreds of thousands of young undocumented residents to legal status through college enrollment or military service. Critics claimed its passage would have encouraged more illegal immigration.

Members of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organization said they feel attacked by the proposals.

If they pass the House, the bills likely will be killed in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

This is based on a story by The Associated Press.

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