It’s unclear whether any Virginia jurisdictions qualify as sanctuary cities, but the state legislature is determined to make sure none of them stray across the line, with Republican senators and delegates pushing to withhold money from those that refuse to cooperate — and even considering making them have to pay restitution to those harmed by illegal immigrants within their borders.
The House cleared a bill Monday that would require prisons and jails to honor all requests to transfer illegal immigrants to federal custody, as long as they aren’t asked to hold the aliens beyond the time they’d normally be released.
Senators meanwhile debated — but put off until later this week — votes on bills that would have allowed the state to strip grant money from sanctuaries, and that would have given private citizens hurt by illegal immigrants the chance to claim damages.
“This is very simple: We are either voting for rule of law or voting against it,” said Sen. Thomas A. Garrett, Buckingham Republican and sponsor of the bill to strip funding from sanctuaries.
Sanctuary cities have burst onto front pages nationwide after last summer’s slaying of Kathryn Steinle, a 32-year-old woman shot while walking the San Francisco waterfront with her father. Police charged an illegal immigrant who had been deported five times but had snuck back and was living in San Francisco, where officials just months earlier had refused to turn him over to federal immigration agents for deportation.
In Congress, Senate Democrats launched a filibuster to prevent the national government from stripping federal grant money from sanctuaries, forcing the fight back into the states, where local lawmakers, eager to win points with constituents, are taking up the challenge in about a dozen states.
The latest wrinkle is the push to hold sanctuaries liable for injuries or deaths resulting from their sanctuary policies.
The Virginia House bill, written by Delegate Robert G. Marshall, Prince William Republican, would allow victims of sanctuary city policies to claim compensation from the state’s criminal injuries fund. That bill passed on a 68-29 vote, with three Democrats joining Republicans in approving the bill.
Meanwhile, one of the Senate bills would have gone further, requiring cities and counties to have to pay up if illegal immigrants within their jurisdiction hurt or kill someone or damage property. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Richard H. “Dick” Black, Loudoun Republican, saw preliminary debate in the Senate, but after repeated questions from Democrats, a vote was put off.
Virginia is one of the pioneers in liability, but it’s not the only one. Florida’s House cleared a bill last week allowing victims to claim damages from sanctuary cities.
One major sticking point in all of the debates is trying to figure out what qualifies as a sanctuary city.
One list maintained by the Center for Immigration Studies, which is based on U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement data, claims north of 300 cities and counties as sanctuaries, while another ICE list published last month by The Texas Tribune found more than 500 jurisdictions that refused to cooperate with federal authorities at least once in 2014 or 2015.
In Virginia, that Tribune document listed 11 counties and cities. Roanoke led the way, refusing nine requests to hold someone beyond their regular release point, the ICE data suggested. Virginia Beach, Montgomery County, Richmond, Pulaski County and Arlington County each declined at least two detainer requests.
Of the 11 jurisdictions, however, only Arlington was deemed to have a specific policy prohibiting or limiting cooperation, the ICE data said.
Arlington disputed that finding.
“We are a welcoming community, and we do cooperate fully with all law enforcement agencies, including federal,” said Diana Sun, a county spokeswoman.
Democrats feverishly attacked the GOP legislation on Monday, saying that requiring local authorities to cooperate with federal agents hurts trust between police and immigrant communities.
Several Senate Democrats doubted there were any sanctuary cities in the state and wondered why the GOP was pushing the bill.
“This is a measure looking for a problem to solve,” said Sen. John S. Edwards, Roanoke Democrat, who said the way the bill was written, the state could withhold money for kindergarten classes as punishment for lax illegal immigration policies.
But Sen. Richard Saslaw, Fairfax Democrat, argued the other extreme, saying that, in reality, every city and county in the state is a sanctuary but looks the other way when it suits their needs.
“All I can say is you better hope that all these undocumented people don’t go back to wherever they came from, because you’d have trouble getting any service at your hotel on the East or West Coast,” he said.
He also accused Republicans of being “hypocrites” when it came to coercion, saying GOP lawmakers supported a bill to grant county and city clerks a carve-out not to issue marriage licenses if they had a moral objection — but wanted to force law enforcement to comply with federal law even when they had a moral objection.
“That’s called hypocrisy, and there’s no shortage of it here,” he said.
Mr. Garrett, the GOP sponsor of the bill, said Democrats couldn’t have it both ways in claiming there were no sanctuary cities, then getting upset by legislation designed to punish them.
“Well, good, then we’re voting on whether or not we should enforce our laws that are already on our books,” he said.
His bill cleared on a party-line 21-19 vote, but minutes later the GOP asked for a do-over, then pushed the vote to later this week. Mr. Garrett’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment on the delay, but a Senate GOP aide said passage is still likely later this week.
Mr. Saslaw doubted the bills would earn Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s signature, even if they do clear the legislature.
In Maryland, Del. Patrick L. McDonough, Baltimore County Republican, has been pushing to cut off funding to areas of the state, notably Baltimore County and City, if they engage in sanctuary policies. His bill has still not been introduced, and Democrats, who control the legislature in the state, have signaled they would defeat it.