- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 31, 2005

The chairman of a panel that will monitor a new Virginia law barring illegal aliens from receiving public benefits said yesterday he opposes the law but will not fight it.

“As of when the governor signed it, whatever views we had were moot,” said J. Walter Tejada, chairman of the Virginia Latino Advisory Commission. “It is the law, and we all comply with the law.”

Mr. Tejada, a Democrat and an Arlington County Board member, said he wants the panel to study the cost of implementing the law, which requires state and local governments to verify the legal presence of residents seeking nonemergency public benefits. The law takes effect Jan. 1.

“How much is it going to cost us at the local governments to train front-line staff to understand the intricacies of this new law and what is the training that they have to go through?” said Mr. Tejada, who also serves as chairman of the Human Services Policy Committee of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. “A lot of questions remain.”

Mr. Tejada was born in El Salvador and moved to the United States when he was 13. Mr. Tejada has worked professionally as an investigator, a business consultant and an aide to U.S. Rep. James P. Moran. He has served on numerous boards and commissions and is the founding chairman of the Shirlington Employment and Education Center, which helps laborers gain job skills and find employment.

In a special election in March 2003, Mr. Tejada became the first Hispanic to win a seat on the Arlington County Board. Later that year, he was re-elected to a four-year term.

The Virginia Latino Advisory Commission makes recommendations to the governor, but it has no authority to change the law, stop it from taking effect or allow localities not to enforce it. Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, appointed members of the panel. The members are not paid.

The majority of the commission opposes the law, which passed the General Assembly by a veto-proof majority and was signed by Mr. Warner earlier this week.

Mr. Warner also signed legislation that makes the current panel a permanent commission on Oct. 15. In creating the permanent commission, Mr. Warner told its members to study and monitor the law to ensure that it will be “fairly implemented” and “does not impose undue costs on local governments.”

A state study estimated the cost at the state level would be more than $12 million to hire and train 226 new workers to process the more in-depth applications for Medicaid and welfare. Mr. Tejada said he wants to see a study that estimates how much it would cost at the local level.

Under the law, government officials will require an applicant to provide the same immigration documents now needed to obtain a Virginia driver’s license. The law applies only to aliens 19 and older. Illegals of any age still will be eligible for emergency aid, such as immunizations and pregnancy tests.

Mr. Tejada had asked Mr. Warner to offer an amendment that would exempt localities from the measure, but Mr. Warner signed the measure without offering any amendments.

Mr. Tejada said the law is redundant because federal law already prohibits illegals from receiving such benefits.

Andres Tobar, a panel member who also is executive director of Shirlington’s laborer center, said he opposes the law because he fears only immigrants will be asked to verify their legal status.

“People that are legally here should not have to be proving that they are legally here,” he said. “Anybody with an accent is going to be suspected that they are illegal. They may be denied services that they rightfully should be receiving.”

He said he is glad the commission can monitor the law and its effects on the Hispanic community.

Cecelia M. Espenoza, a panel member, said the new law puts an “undue burden” on all residents who will be required to show more documents when applying for benefits. “Still, we are not a legislative body, we are just supposed to provide advice to the governor,” she said.

The Latino Advisory Commission is an offshoot of the Latino Advisory Board, which Mr. Warner established in 2003 by executive order. The board was created to promote the development of economic, professional, cultural, educational and governmental links with the Hispanic community in Virginia, Mr. Warner said.

Board members are reimbursed for expenses, which cost the state about $5,700 annually, a state study shows.

There are no specific requirements to serve on the panel. The governor makes his appointments based on recommendations and on a candidate’s expertise.

The new commission will be made up of 21 members, at least 15 of whom must be of Hispanic descent.

The commission held public hearings last year to hear from Hispanics about their worries related to law enforcement. Its next meeting is later this month.

ADVISORY PANEL

The Virginia Latino Advisory Commission will monitor a new law that bars illegal immigrants access to public benefits, such as Medicaid. The commission will:

• Be appointed by the governor on Oct. 15.

• Consist of 21 members, at least 15 of whom must be of Hispanic descent.

• Include secretaries of the Commonwealth, Commerce and Trade, Education, Health and Human Resources, Public Safety, and Transportation or their designees.

• Advise the governor on a range of issues related to the Hispanic community.

Source: Virginia governor’s office

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