- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 31, 2006

There may be more than 40 immigration-related bills in the works this year in Richmond, but all that attention in the General Assembly on illegal aliens is misdirected, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said yesterday.

“I don’t believe immigration is one of the top issues in Virginia if you ask Virginians,” the Democratic governor said at a breakfast meeting with Washington reporters at the District’s St. Regis Hotel. “It does matter to a number of people, but compared to jobs, education, health care, transportation, it’s pretty far down.”

Mr. Kaine, three weeks into his term, has focused on pushing through a package of fee and tax increases to fund transportation projects such as the widening of Interstate 66.

But legislators say the dozens of immigration-related bills submitted this year signal a growing concern among Virginians about problems with day laborers, gangs and overcrowding in single-family homes.

“Illegal immigration in Virginia used to be a nuisance issue where people knew it was there and didn’t really bother them, but now that’s changed [and] it’s a quality-of-life issue, something that people see everyday,” said Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, a Prince William Republican who wrote or co-authored at least 10 immigration-related bills.

Mr. Kaine said the state’s approach to immigration was once “Swiss cheese,” but he said the system has improved.

Virginia House lawmakers today are expected to pass a bill drafted by Mr. Frederick that would give state police authority to enforce immigration laws and make the state one of only three in the country to delegate such power to local law enforcement.

It goes to the Senate if passed by the House.

Under Mr. Frederick’s bill, Mr. Kaine would have the authority to enter into an agreement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to authorize certain members of the state police to enforce civil immigration laws.

For example, officers would be allowed — but not required — to enforce immigration violations when they encounter an illegal alien during a routine traffic stop.

“There are instances where someone may be stopped for a traffic violation [or] a misdemeanor and the officer may see they shouldn’t be on the road, and the only way the officer could do something like that would be to enforce immigration laws,” Mr. Frederick said. “This gives law enforcement an extra tool in their tool box to deal with issues they may face on their beat.”

Virginia State Police currently can detain illegal aliens if they are arrested for a felony or Class 1 misdemeanor, spokesman Sgt. Terry Licklider said. If a person does not have proper identification, an officer can at his discretion make an arrest or issue the person a summons to appear in court, Sgt. Licklider said.

State troopers encounter illegals a few times each week, Sgt. Licklider said. As many as 250,000 illegal aliens lived in Virginia from 2002 to 2004, according to a study released last year by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Police in Alabama and Florida have authority to enforce immigration laws. The issue also has drawn heated debate in California, where the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and Costa Mesa Police Department want to send 200 deputies and 40 officers, respectively, to train with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

• Christina Bellantoni contributed to this report

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