Virginia’s attorney general yesterday sent a letter to President Bush and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill demanding they “take immediate action to address the issue of illegal immigration” to ease the financial and public safety burdens being shouldered by states.
“The borders are not yet secure, the administration and enforcement of the immigration system is cumbersome and ineffective, and the public safety problems caused by criminal aliens are growing,” Robert F. McDonnell wrote in a five-page letter to the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. “This is unacceptable.”
Mr. McDonnell, a Republican, urged the president to call a special session of Congress if they cannot resolve the issue during the regular session. He said a lack of money and manpower has led to federal immigration laws not being enforced. He also said some states have been handcuffed by federal laws, including a policy that bars state or local laws that would provide criminal or civil penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.
“Until proper resources are devoted to enforcement by the president and Congress, federal law should be amended to expand the authority of state and local authorities to temporarily detain illegals until they can be taken into custody by federal immigration authorities,” he wrote. “Funding should be provided to pay for the state detention of such illegal aliens until they can be deported.”
Mr. McDonnell, who has signaled his ambitions to run for governor in 2009, wrote the letter two months before the General Assembly’s 140 seats go up for election.
Some Northern Virginia Republicans have latched onto the issue of illegal aliens as they fight off Democrats working to grab three of the four seats they need to control the state Senate.
“None of the Northern Virginia Democrats are for any aggressive approach to illegal immigration — period,” said state Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, Fairfax County Republican. “The Democrats, they are divorced from their base on this. Their base is not pro-immigration. There is a large swath of Democratic voters who care deeply about this.”
The intense national debate that played out on Capitol Hill earlier this year, combined with local problems surrounding day-laborer centers, increased health care costs and ongoing gang violence has prompted Virginia Republicans to say the issue can no longer be ignored.
“Whether or not it is a winning issue, it is the issue,” said state Sen. Jay O’Brien, Fairfax County Republican. “People are furious with overcrowded homes and decreasing property values.”
Mr. O’Brien and Republican leaders in the General Assembly have outlined five proposals they plan to introduce next year. Among the proposals, sheriffs would be required to confirm an arrested person’s legal status through a national database, and every jail would be required to have a person certified to detain illegal aliens during the deportation process. Republicans also want to make a federal conviction for hiring illegal aliens grounds to withdraw a business license, to bar people from attending state universities unless they have a valid student visa, and to make illegal aliens ineligible for bail.
Mr. McDonnell has unsuccessfully urged Gov .Timothy M. Kaine to enter into a statewide partnership with federal immigration officials that would allow state agencies to identify illegal aliens and begin deportation procedures. Mr. Kaine, a Democrat, has repeatedly said the cost involved in entering such agreements is too much for the commonwealth to shoulder and that it is the federal government’s responsibility to address the problem.
“I have seen first hand that changes at the local state, and federal levels are required to address this increasing problem,” Mr. McDonnell said in the letter.