Earlier this week, this newspaper reported that the local governments of Arlington and Fairfax counties and the city of Alexandria had asked for an exemption from a state law that prevents illegal aliens from receiving local health care and welfare benefits. Gov. Mark Warner gave them their answer on Tuesday, when he signed the bill into law without adding any exemption amendments for the General Assembly to consider when it reconvenes next week. Since Mr. Warner, a Democrat, initially opposed the bill, he should be applauded for his reversal. As Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore has said, the legislation is “common sense.”
The law will apply to illegals 19 years and older, and it does not deny any illegal alien from receiving emergency services. It does, however, require state and local officials to verify legal presence of an applicant who is applying for specific benefits. It is shameful that before the bill, which becomes law on Jan. 1, someone asking for Medicaid benefits didn’t have to provide so much as a green card for approval.
Opponents of the bill in the heavily Democratic districts of Northern Virginia argued that it would strain local resources as well as “erode” local authority. Both arguments are spurious. Since Northern Virginia bears a substantial burden of the state’s estimated 200,000 illegal population, it’s not surprising that local politicians fought its passage. Arlington is notorious for pandering to its illegal population and ignoring state immigration laws. In 2004, for instance, the Arlington County Board tried to ignore a state law aimed at cracking down on illegal immigrants to counter the region’s rising gang violence. The effort was led by board member J. Walter Tejada, a Democrat who emigrated from El Salvador. This time around, Mr. Tejada wrote to Mr. Warner, saying “The neediest are always targeted by conservative legislators.” The “neediest” being, in this case, illegal aliens exploiting taxpayer funded benefits intended for Virginians and other law-abiding residents.
In a similar vein, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly, also a Democrat, argued that “the local taxpayer will bear the burden of the cost of [the law’s] implementation.” That’s quite a turnaround for someone who has overseen and initiated a dramatic rise in Fairfax County property taxes during his time on the board. If anything, removing a not trivial portion of the populace from state and local services would benefit the taxpayer.
At a time when state Medicaid costs are skyrocketing — Virginia spends about $2 billion annually — the law is sound policy, if long overdue, for all of Virginia.