RICHMOND— Immigrant justice advocates are condemning conservative members of Virginia’s House of Delegates after legislation important to hardworking residents of the Commonwealth was killed this week. Bills on in-state tuition and driver’s privileges were left to die before the February 13 crossover deadline while a House subcommittee voted to advance anti-sanctuary legislation. The Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights (VACIR) finds it unacceptable that state lawmakers are refusing to take action to help some of the state’s most vulnerable residents.
Margie Del Castillo, chair of the state committee for VACIR said, “Our coalition worked tirelessly this legislative session to activate our communities so they could share their stories and perspectives on how these issues directly impact them. Which is why the actions of leadership in the House to bar our legislation from being given even a fair heading is not only disappointing, but unsurprising at this point. We’ll continue to organize and show up, as the time is ticking for these outdated and ineffective legislators.”
Bills that provided in-state tuition to undocumented students who graduated from Virginia high schools were referred to the House Rules Committee by Speaker Kirk Cox and he refused to put them on the committee’s docket, effectively killing the legislation. In a statement defending his decision, Cox said, “Precious in-state tuition slots are already very limited and the Speaker believes that Virginia students should be first in line for those slots.”
VACIR would like to remind Speaker Cox that undocumented students ARE Virginia students– many of whom were brought to the country at a young age, making the state their only home. Undocumented students grow up in Virginia neighborhoods, go to community places of worship and attend local schools. A recent report released by The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis found that expanding in-state tuition rates to undocumented students in Virginia does not create a cost burden to the state or result in overcrowded classrooms. Providing in-state tuition rates opens up a pathway to better jobs and opportunities that benefit students and the state economy.
“Speaker Cox was once an educator and one of his priorities used to be that all Virginians had the same educational opportunities,” said Yanet Amado Limon of the Virginia Intercollegiate Immigrant Alliance, one of the member organizations of VACIR. “Today he is ignoring thousands of students that have graduated from Virginia schools. Cox has forgotten his values as an educator.”
On Wednesday, the House Courts of Justice Subcommittee approved HB1257, a bill from Delegate Ben Cline that prohibits localities from enacting sanctuary policies. Since Virginia already has laws that forbid sanctuary policies, community members and organizations are speaking out against HB1257 because it is an attack on immigrant and refugee communities. HB1257 is an affront to hardworking Virginians who deserve to live in safe communities without fear of deportation and having their families ripped apart.
“This anti-sanctuary law will only criminalize our communities and our youth. Communication between police officers and immigrant community members will worsen, thereby decreasing the reporting of crimes and adding to a general sense of unsafety and fear in our communities,” said Diego Orbegoso of the NLIRH Virginia Latina Advocacy Network.
Legislation that granted driving privileges to undocumented residents was referred to the House Transportation Committee at the beginning of the legislative session and was also not given a proper hearing by the panel. Immigrant justice advocates are exasperated at the obvious bias against immigrants expressed by state lawmakers who are refusing to give the bills a fair hearing based upon their own merits. As the federal government refuses to act on immigration reform, undocumented Virginians are asking state lawmakers to pass legislation that would help them feel less criminalized and give them more opportunities.
VACIR is calling on supporters of the immigrant community to flood the phone lines at the House of Delegates. Call your delegate and ask that Speaker Cox discharge the in-state tuition and driving privileges bills to the House floor.