If Virginia Republicans take over the state Senate on Tuesday, the state’s immigrant community would be in trouble.
That’s what Arlington County Supervisor Walter Tejada, a Democrat who is seeking re-election this year, told me last week.
Currently Republicans control the House of Delegates 59-39. Democrats hold 22 of the 40 state Senate seats.
If Republicans were to gain two seats in Tuesday’s election to tie 20-20, they would win control of the Legislature because they would have the tie-breaking vote of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican.
If that happens, Tejada said, Virginia could in the next legislative session follow Alabama and Arizona’s footsteps in approving strict immigration enforcement laws.
Since 9/11 the Old Dominion has taken a tough approach against illegal immigration. It was among the first states enacting tougher rules for illegal immigrants to obtain a driver’s license.
Gov. Bob McDonnell a year ago, right after his election, requested the federal government to give state troopers authority to act as immigration and customs officers. His request is still pending, but McDonnell has said he is disappointed he has not heard a response to his petition from the Department of Homeland Security.
In the past few years, the divided Legislature—Democrats control the Senate and Republicans control the House— has considered strict anti-illegal immigration measures.
This year, legislation similar to one recently enacted in Alabama that led to thousands of immigrants to flee the state was approved in the Virginia House of Delegates. But the proposal was killed in the state Senate. The plan gave local police authority to act as immigration agents. Another proposal aimed to deny illegal immigrants access to state colleges and universities.
The measures, backed by conservative Republicans, have been introduced in consecutive Legislatures and have failed to pass by small margins, often along party lines and after persistent lobbying from immigrant advocates.
Tejada, the first Latino elected to office beyond school board in Northern Virginia, said a Republican dominated legislature combined with a Republican in the executive mansion, would open door to such tough laws. That, he said, would alienate the immigrant community of Virginia.
Virginia’s position on illegal immigration in the past decade could have already led to an exodus of illegal immigrants. A study released by the Pew Hispanic Center last yearindicated Virginia saw its number of undocumented immigrants shrink from 2008 to 2009, declining by 65,000 to 240,000 people.