When this year’s General Assembly kicked off, there were around 120 bills that would have had a negative impact on the state’s immigrant communities as local politicians responded to the national, and in some places local, hysteria over illegal immigration. Many of those bills died in subcommittee, but according to Tim Freilich, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program, there are still 25 bills under consideration that would negatively impact Virginia’s immigrants, often regardless of their legal status. From his vantage point, the most egregious of these are worsened by their involvement of state and local police to enforce the proposed legislation, creating what he calls a “dramatic diversion of law enforcement.”
Tim Freilich, legal director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program, has praise for one bill, a “no-brainer” that protects crime victims and witnesses from being asked about their immigration status.
For instance, Freilich draws attention to Senate Bill 609, which requires all correctional facility officers to ask about an inmate’s citizenship. More far-reaching is House Bill 436, which would give police officers a tremendous degree of discretion in how they treat someone they’ve stopped for a Class 1 or 2 misdemeanor. Under current law, a police officer must release the person on a summons unless the person fails to stop the unlawful act or indicates that he will not appear in court. HB 436 would allow an officer to arrest him for the misdemeanor.
“This would pave the way for bias-based policing,” says Freilich.
Although the bill seems to have been drafted to address immigrants, it would impact all Virginians, just like HB 430/SB 428, which allows a zoning administrator to enter a house and search the house if issued a warrant. Proposed by Delegate Jackson Miller (R-Manassas), the bill seems crafted to address immigrant overcrowding in houses but once again would technically affect all residents.
“I don’t think Virginians are prepared to abandon the right to privacy in their own home in order to address this issue,” says Freilich.
While most of the bills that are immigrant related would have a negative impact, there are currently four that Freilich says would actually help. Chief among those is SB 441, which would protect crime victims and witnesses from being asked about their immigration status.
“You’d think it would be a no-brainer,” says Freilich. “Obviously, all Virginians are safer when victims of crime come forward.”
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