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House panel OKs crackdown on illegal immigrants

On party-line votes in a packed hearing room, a House subcommittee last week endorsed a legislative package that Republicans said will curb illegal immigration but opponents said may unfairly punish undocumented residents and promote discrimination.

The immigration subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee approved bills to make Virginia’s public colleges and universities spell out their policies against enrolling illegal immigrants; have the Virginia State Police enforce federal immigration laws; require public contractors to verify that their employees are legal U.S. residents; and check the immigration status of everyone arrested in Virginia.

Most of the bills were endorsed on 4-2 votes, with Republicans voting yes and Democrats no.

Nearly every seat in the 204-person-capacity room was taken, and a Capitol Police officer stood watchfully over the proceedings, as the subcommittee considered 17 immigration-related bills Friday. Thirteen of the proposals were approved (or were folded into related bills and then approved); they now will be considered by the full House Courts of Justice Committee.

Delegate Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, reflected the tenor of the Republican majority on the subcommittee in arguing for the employment verification requirement.

“The issue is being framed as one of meanness,” Miller said. “It’s not. If you’re here illegally, I want you to leave. I welcome you back legally with open arms.”

About half the audience applauded; they were called out of order by the subcommittee chairman, Delegate Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock.

The legislation’s opponents were equally impassioned. Danny Navarro of the Latino Student Alliance at the University of Virginia, for example, testified against the proposal to prohibit illegal immigrants from enrolling in state colleges and universities.

“This bill is an attempt to stunt the academic growth of undocumented citizens,” Navarro said.

College Enrollment
House Bill 1465, sponsored by Delegate Christopher Peace, R-Mechanicsville, would require public colleges and universities to have written rules against enrolling “an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States.” Peace said most state schools already have such a policy: “They don’t have to do anything but put it in writing.”

The subcommittee folded into Peace’s measure HB 2153, sponsored by Delegate Ben Cline, R-Amherst. Cline’s proposal would make illegal immigrants ineligible for in-state tuition.

A long line of groups testified against the legislation. They ranged from Jews United for Justice to the Virginia Catholic Conference.

“We have earned the right to compete for admission,” Navarro said. “The immigration laws fail to address the ‘dreamers’” – the children of illegal immigrants who were brought here as young children and have grown up believing themselves to be Americans.

Juan Milanés of the Hispanic Bar Association agreed.

“These kids are dreamers because, more than anything, they want to be like you and me,” Milanés said. “These kids are trying to be here as productive members of society. They are not asking for an extra leg up.”

Gilbert responded, “The issue is finite resources. There are not enough slots in our public colleges and universities for our kids right now.”

“Who’s ‘our kids’?” Milanés shot back.

Peace said undocumented aliens could still pay out-of-state tuition: “To say that this bill cuts off educational opportunity is hyperbole.”

After the discussion, the subcommittee voted 4-2 in favor of HB 1465. Republican Delegates Gilbert, David Albo of Springfield, Jackson Miller of Manassas and William Cleaveland of Roanoke voted yes; Democratic Delegates Vivian Watts of Annandale and Patrick Hope of Arlington voted no.

Enforcing Federal Laws
This bill, sponsored by Miller, would authorize the Virginia State Police to enter into an agreement with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement service. Under the arrangement (known as a “287g” agreement), the State Police would enforce federal immigration laws. Albo had filed HB 1420, which was the same as Miller’s bill; it was rolled into HB 1934.

Many people in the room wore buttons depicting “287g” in a red circle with a slash through it.

Luis Ayola, a Puerto Rican student at the University of Virginia, described being stopped and questioned by “cops who were incredulous that I had ID. I haven’t been detained yet, but I’m not waiting until that happens. I’m against 287g.”

“How long were you inconvenienced?” Hope asked Ayola.

“The first time, an hour,” Ayola answered. “The second time, 20 minutes.”

Beatriz Amberman of the Hispanic Community Dialogue Organization in Hampton Roads said that “turning State Police into ICE officials” will be expensive and undermine public safety.

“Increased enforcement will cost millions that the federal government will not reimburse. Can you assure us that local government won’t be burdened with the costs of this?” Amberman asked.

Ben Greenberg of Virginia Organizing, a nonprofit group that works with low-income communities, called the bill “an invitation to racial profiling.”

Michael McLaughlin of the American Council for Immigration Reform said there have been no confirmed instances of racial profiling under the 287g program. He called the legislation a “cost effective” way to deal with the “immigration problem.”

The subcommittee approved HB 1934 by the same 4-2 vote.

E-Verify
Two bills would require public contractors to use E-Verify to determine whether their employees are eligible to work in the U.S. E-Verify is a free, internet-based service operated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. It can match an employee’s name against Social Security and other government records. HB 1859, sponsored by Delegate Richard Anderson, R-Woodbridge, would apply to contractors who work for state agencies. HB 1727, by Delegate Charles Carrico, R-Galax, would apply to local governments and to contractors for local governments. The subcommittee voted 4-2 for both bills after hearing testimony from all sides.

Construction industry representative Ryan Baker said such laws are needed.

“I see the effects of illegal immigration on a first-hand basis,” Baker said. He said contractors who hire illegal workers underbid other companies for government work. “If you don’t have to pay unemployment insurance or the wages that U.S. citizens get, you can do things a lot cheaper."

Representatives of the tea party movement and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli also supported the E-Verify requirement.

Many groups opposed such a requirement, especially on local governments. They included the Coalition of Virginia Employers, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Retail Merchants Association, the Virginia chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, the Virginia Association of Counties and the Virginia Municipal League.

Opponents said the E-Verify program has a high error rate and puts more administrative responsibilities (with associated cost) on small employers.

Immigration Checks
HB 1430, sponsored by Albo, would ensure that police check the immigration status of everyone arrested in Virginia. A similar measure – HB 2332, by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, was rolled into HB 1430.

“My intent is that everybody who gets arrested gets checked,” Albo said. “Some sheriffs are only checking those who get bond or who are released on their own recognizance.”

Albo said the legislation would target just people being arrested: “We’re not seeking to do immigration checks on people on the street – only that everyone who gets taken before a magistrate gets checked.”

Many groups that opposed other legislation before the immigration subcommittee had no problem with HB 1430.

“It doesn’t go into effect unless there is probable cause for a warrant or a magistrate has seen the person,” Castañaga said. “It’s not a situation where a police officer picks someone up because ‘they don’t look right.’”

Still, some immigration advocates said they want to make sure that police don’t use the legislation as a pretext to ask people to prove they are legal residents.

The subcommittee voted 5-1 for HB 1430. Hope was the lone dissenter.


Community

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden raises admission $1

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s admission has increased by $1 across all categories. Admission is now $12 for adults; $11 for seniors ages 55 and older; and $8 for children ages 3–12. Admission remains free for children ages 3 and younger and for members.

The last price increase was in 2011, before the Garden consistently hosted Butterflies LIVE! (which is included with admission). > Read more.

Garden tails

The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.

Western Henrico Rotary helps fund Midwives For Haiti Jeep


Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.

The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Take in a show at several locations this weekend! West End Comedy will provide laughs at HATTheatre; the production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will close Sunday; and the youth theatre company CharacterWorks will present “Footloose” at The Steward School. Another show perfect for the kids – “Despicable Me 2” is playing at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center tonight. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Is there an Echo in here?

‘Earth to Echo’ aims to become this generation’s ‘ET’
It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.

But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.

That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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