On Va. House Panel, a Stampede Against Illegal Immigration
MRICHMOND ove ’em on, head ’em up, Head ’em up, move ’em on The herd in question consists of bills — bills aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants, bills being corralled through the gates of the Virginia legislature. You can just about hear the theme song from the classic TV western “Rawhide” as these bills, dozens and dozens of them, move through the House Rules Committee at a rate of about one every three minutes.
Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’
Debate? Who needs it? Votes? A quick muttering of “yea” does the trick. Hardly anyone at a committee meeting this week bothers to demur.
Eager to send the message that Virginia is not for illegal immigrants, lawmakers have loaded the General Assembly’s session with all manner of ways to make the state unappealing to foreigners who don’t have permission to be in the country.
If all the bills pass, illegal immigrants would be banned from enrolling in public colleges, barred from getting a mortgage on a house and liable to be fired if they don’t speak English at work. There’s even a resolution, by Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II, the Fairfax Republican, to ask Congress to initiate a change to the 14th Amendment so that citizenship would no longer be granted automatically to anyone born in the United States. At least one parent would have to be a citizen before a child could be eligible for citizenship at birth.
“I’d like us to make Virginia the most welcoming place in the country for people
who come here legally,” says Del. Jeff Frederick, a Prince William Republican. “And Virginia is going to be the least hospitable place for those who break the law.”
Not all of the bills are aimed directly at illegal immigrants. The proposals include measures that would turn huge numbers of Virginians into surrogate enforcement agents. Prison officials, police officers, state contractors and other employers would have to check whether potential employees are in the country legally. It would become a felony to “harbor, transport or conceal an illegal alien.” Anyone in a state-regulated industry caught with an illegal immigrant on the payroll would face fines of up to $10,000 per violation.
If you sought to change your name legally, you’d have to prove your citizenship. Same if you applied for a driver’s license, tax exemption or contractor’s license. Colleges would have to check freshmen’s birth certificates and report the results on a public Web site.
Anyone — not just illegal immigrants — who speaks a foreign language and is convicted in a trial in Virginia would be required to pay for an interpreter.
And if you’re thinking of renting out a single-family house, you’d face fines if you let more than four unrelated people live there. “If 30 people can live together in a house, their rent is cheaper, and that gives them an unfair advantage over legal Americans,” says Del. Bob Marshall, a Prince William Republican who wrote more immigration-related bills than any other legislator. “My bill says that even if you have the 12 apostles in the house, if they’re unrelated, you’re going to be fined.”
(Lest you think Marshall is antagonistic to immigrants, he hastens to note: “We’re all made in God’s image; I’m more angry at the employers who give them jobs than I am at the poor folks coming over the border.”)
Through rain an’ wind an’ weather Hellbent for leather So the boys — there is one woman among 15 members — on the Rules Committee are having a whale of a time, pushing through the bills, racking up points with their angry, frustrated constituents. Who cares if most of the bills are destined to die in the Senate? What’s it to you if a fair number “are unconstitutional bills that everyone wants to do but can’t?” Not my words, but those of Del. David Albo, a Fairfax Republican who is sponsoring several immigration bills.
Rather than concoct new ways to make life miserable for immigrants, Albo says it makes more sense “for all of us to agree that people who commit crimes should all be looked at for their legal status, whether they have a Hispanic accent or they talk like [Terry] Kilgore,” the delegate from Gate City known around the Capitol for his syrupy drawl. “We can at least tee them up for [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to go get ’em.”
Or maybe the legislative frenzy won’t amount to much. “Some of these are just show bills,” Cuccinelli says. “Some certainly have constitutional problems. At the end of the session, the result won’t match up to the public’s expectation. We’re taking a shot at fixing it, but the election went the way it did.”
Despite the noise from the loud minority devoted to driving illegal immigrants back where they came from, voters were swayed by other concerns and handed control of the Senate to Democrats last fall. But in Richmond, House delegates stick to their old ways. Don’t try to understand ’em Just rope, throw, an’ brand ’em Soon we’ll be livin’ high an’ wide. Join me at noon today for “Potomac Confidential” at www.washingtonpost.com/ liveonline.