February 3, 2007 [LINK / comment]

Virginia is not for immigrants (?)

I haven't blogged much about immigration lately, and the last time I addressed the policy issue in serious terms was last June. Obviously, the Republicans in Congress squandered their opportunity to address the matter while they still held power, and the Democrats are quite content to let the problem of illegality get worse. Meanwhile, Rep. Virgil Goode's offensive remarks about the Koran in December once again made the Republicans look churlish and mean-spirited, undermining the cause of honest immigration reform. What a shame.

This week, nonetheless, the Virginia House of Delegates took up the matter once again. They passed a variety of tough bills, one of which would deny funding to any charitable organization that assists illegal immigrants, and another that would force college students who are not legal residents to pay out-of-state tuition. (I oppose the former and favor the latter.) Of course, the Senate will water those proposals down before they become law, and even then they would have to be signed by Gov. Kaine, which is rather doubtful. According to the Washington Post, immigration rights advocates say they will hold four days of protests against the House bills. ("Sí, se puede!" ) For their part, police departments are wary of the proposed law, fearing that it will intimidate immigrants and make them less likely to trust their police for protection. This would only encourage immigrants to align themselves with criminal gangs for protection, which would set in motion a chain reaction of hostility.

Even though I am strongly in favor of serious measures to reform the immigration system, it is primarily a federal matter. Granted, as Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax) complained, "The federal guys aren't doing anything." He is quite right. That is why I hope the House of Delegates does pass a serious immigration measure, to put pressure on the U.S. Congress to address the problem. I have one huge stipulation, however: any such measures must be part of a broader agenda to reform entitlements and labor laws. (To the Republicans' credit, the General Assembly did defeat a proposed increase in the state's minimum wage.) There is a big danger that laws aimed at selectively punishing illegal immigrants will be seen as more of way to appeal to angry voters than a genuine attempt to address the underlying problem. Many people forget that cracking down on illegal immigrants forces them to lay low, which has the effect of making it easier for sleazy businesses to exploit them. Nothing could be more cruel or cynical. If the bills passed by the House of Delegates appear to be unfairly singling out a vulnerable portion of the population, I would hope that the Virginia Senate would reject those bills.

Immigration: Get in line, and Speed up the process.