On Va. House Panel, a Stam­pede Against Il­le­gal Im­mi­gra­tion

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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.

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