The Virginia Senate spent the length of Tuesday afternoon debating new Republican-led legislation specifically prohibiting the formation of sanctuary cities in the Commonwealth, an issue that the captured the spotlight during the heated 2017 gubernatorial race.
Similar bills have come up in the General Assembly in the past, but were vetoed by then-Governor Terry McAullife. Although Republicans enjoy a slim majority in both chambers, the measure may have a similar fate under Democratic Governor Ralph Northam.
House Bill 1257, sponsored by Delegate Ben Cline (R-Amherst), is short and to the point. The bill states, “that no locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.” The legislation is similar to a bill proposed in last year’s session regarding sanctuary cities.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Cline claims the bill would end Arlington County’s procedure that has local police officers involving themselves during actions and investigation be carried out by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials. He says the two authorities cross paths in an investigation only when a criminal warrant is proposed for an individual’s arrest. Currently, Arlington County law enforcement officials are barred by federal law from doing so.
After a 51-49 party-line vote passed the measure in the House, it went to the Senate Local Government Committee for a subsequent discussion. The committee has a one-member Republican majority, but that did not mean the discussion was without contention.
Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) questioned the bill’s aim, not only for Arlington County, but Virginia as a whole. She also disregarded the idea from Cline and other Republicans that it is related to curbing MS-13 violence.
“If anyone commits a crime and is suspected of being here illegally, there’s already a process for that,” she said. “This bill does not solve a problem in Virginia. This is a message bill. And this bill sends a message to certain people ‘you’re not welcome here.'”
Although there were arguments to shoot down the bill for its unfavorable “message” and its supposed attack on immigrants, it passed through the committee by a 7-6 party-line vote. The bill will now be forwarded to the floor of the Senate for a final vote.
Senator Bill Carrico (R-Grayson) was content with the passage of the bill. He explained that the legislation would hinder the ability of MS-13 gang members from living in Virginia peacefully while committing violent crimes. If the measure passes, no city or locality will be able to create a blanket policy to harbor those in the U.S. illegally without fear of deportation.
Last year, Senator Dick Black (R-Leesburg) introduced Senate Bill 1262 in effort to stave off the creation of sanctuary cities. The bill would have provided that liability for certain injuries and damages caused by an illegal alien was levied fully on sanctuary cities that intentionally restricted enforcement of federal law by ICE officials. After the measure was passed by the General Assembly, McAullife vetoed it, saying it was already illegal for Virginia localities to do that.