State legislators said yesterday that Virginia is facing an immigration crisis on par with Arizona and New Mexico and urged Gov. Mark Warner to declare an emergency like the governors of those two states did last week.
Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, Prince William County Republican, has asked Mr. Warner, a Democrat, to declare a state of emergency to stop the influx of illegal aliens into the state. Mr. Frederick said that even though Virginia does not share a border with Mexico, the state must take such action to tap federal homeland security dollars to fund police efforts to arrest illegal aliens and hand them over to federal immigration authorities.
“They might be coming through Arizona, but they are landing here,” Mr. Frederick said. “It’s getting out of control. We really need to do everything we can and utilize every tool that’s available to us.”
Mr. Frederick, the only Hispanic member of the General Assembly, said such a move would help stem the drain on taxpayer resources caused by illegals who use public services, including hospitals. He still has relatives in Colombia.
Mr. Frederick’s Friday letter to the governor likely will net wide support in the Republican-controlled legislature, which earlier this year overwhelmingly passed a measure denying public benefits to illegal aliens and in 2003 required motorists to prove legal residency to obtain driver’s licenses.
Conservative estimates put the number of illegal aliens in Virginia at 100,000 to 200,000.
Mr. Warner, completing his last five months in office, has not responded to Mr. Frederick, who has served in the state House since last year.
Warner spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said the office had received the letter and will review it.
“The governor believes we need a comprehensive federal policy on immigration issues, which would include stricter enforcement of our borders, but the issues Arizona and New Mexico face are not the issues Virginia faces,” Miss Qualls said. Virginia’s safety, she added, is not threatened by the border with North Carolina.
The state-of-emergency declarations by Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson freed $1.5 million and $1.75 million, respectively, in state emergency funding. The money will go to border counties to address problems with violence and human and drug trafficking.
Both Democratic governors are up for re-election next year. Mr. Richardson, like Mr. Warner, is thought to be eyeing the White House.
Virginia Delegate David B. Albo, who authored the public benefits and license laws, said declaring a state of emergency could help the state.
“If New Mexico and Arizona qualify, certainly Northern Virginia would,” the Fairfax County Republican said. “The amount of money that we are spending on illegal aliens is monstrous. Any way that we can get the federal government to help us fix the problem they’ve created I’m sure would go over 100 percent with 100 percent approval from the caucus.”
Mr. Albo said illegals are attracted to Northern Virginia because the low unemployment rate means many jobs for those seeking temporary work.
These comments come one week after Herndon approved a formal day-laborer center on town property, putting immigration at the forefront of the Nov. 8 election, in which voters will elect a new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and all 100 House delegates.
Mr. Frederick sent his letter to the House Republican Caucus, which did not have a response yesterday.
Democrats were less receptive to the idea.
Delegate Brian J. Moran said declaring a state of emergency does not seem the right way to deal with illegals.
“The state doesn’t have the financial resources to address immigration,” said the Alexandria Democrat and chairman of House Democratic Caucus. “It’s an issue that we need to address, and I call upon the Bush administration and the Republican Congress to address it. They have the resources and the laws to address this.”
Mr. Moran also pointed out that Mr. Frederick last year opposed a $1.38 billion tax reform package that supplied increased funding for police. Mr. Moran supported the package, which raised some taxes while cutting others.
Mr. Frederick’s Democratic opponent in the November election, Prince William County Supervisor Hilda Barg, did not return calls yesterday seeking comment.
State Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II said he found the approach an interesting way to get the federal government’s attention.
“It’s more obvious for them on the border, but we’re being heavily burdened by illegal immigration,” said Mr. Cuccinelli, Fairfax County Republican. “It’s a tactic worth considering. It is an extremely serious problem that is going unaddressed by and large at the federal level.”
He said that if the governor were to declare a state of emergency, it should accompany legislation that takes away any incentives illegal aliens may receive when coming to Virginia.
Jack Martin, special projects director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the state of emergency is obvious in Arizona and New Mexico. When asked whether the situation in Virginia is at such a level, Mr. Martin said the problem spreads from the border states across the country.
“The conditions exist that the federal government should use its emergency powers. Because at the present time, it openly admits that it is unable to detain all of the illegal immigrants that it apprehends, and it is allowing hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens to enter the country every year,” Mr. Martin said.