- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 22, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The Virginia General Assembly has approved legislation that would ban local governments from restricting the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

The bill, which Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe has promised to veto, is quickly becoming one of the most contentious issues in Virginia politics as President Donald Trump makes moves to deport many of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

The GOP-controlled Virginia Senate voted along party lines Wednesday to approve the bill after a contentious debate about what kind of message it would send. A similar version has already passed the Republican-controlled House.

Republicans said it was important for Virginia to show respect for the rule of law by not promoting so-called sanctuary cities. Democrats panned the measure as anti-immigrant, with Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw referencing the Holocaust when speaking against the bill during a floor debate.

Among other actions on immigration, Trump signed an executive order last month to strip funding from so-called sanctuary cities. States across the country have responded, with some moving to limit such communities and others adding protections for immigrants.

Republicans senators said during debate on the bill that the legislation sent a message that no one is above the law.

“Come into this country legally, or please don’t come in at all,” said Sen. Frank Wagner, who is also running for governor.

Other Republican GOP candidates also expressed support for the measure. The 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election is widely watched as a possible referendum on Trump’s first year in office.

Democrats, backed by religious and civil rights groups, blasted the legislation as unnecessary political posturing. Lawmakers said Trump’s harsh moves on immigration have frightened immigrants in their districts.

“All we’ve successfully done here is create an instrument that can frighten young children,” said Democratic Sen. Dave Marsden.

McAuliffe has been one of the most aggressive Democratic governors in pushing back on some of Trump’s immigration moves. The governor said on WTOP radio that he would veto a recently passed bill that would require law enforcement agencies not to release any undocumented immigrants who have been arrested and are wanted by federal immigration officials.

The governor said he also plans to meet with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly this weekend to discuss recent Trump’s immigration policies.

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