Bills could change when officers can ask for immigration status

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Rebeca Jimenez Santiago moved to Virginia from Mexico 15 years ago. She now has six kids.

“Just because we’re undocumented doesn’t make us criminals,” she told 8News through a translator on Friday. “We come to this country to fight for our families.”

Yet the fear of deportation has prevented Jimenez Santiago from protecting herself. She said she was the victim of domestic violence in 2012 but she didn’t report it. She said one of her children did after the third time her husband abused her.

“I didn’t do it before because I was afraid of the police, I was afraid of immigration, I was afraid that they would deport him,” she said.

A bill on the way to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk would prohibit law enforcement from asking about immigration status when someone says they’re a victim or a witness to a crime. Currently, Virginia Code doesn’t give officers any direction on what to do in these situations, according to Luis Oyola, a community organizer with the Legal Aid Justice Center.

Oyola said this legislation is a good first step.

“Ideally, we would prohibit cooperation with ICE,” Oyola said.

He said Virginia lawmakers aren’t at that point yet.

Democrats are still debating how far to go this year. Another bill could make it optional for correctional facilities to ask about citizenship and country of origin when a person is charged or convicted of a crime. Republicans are concerned about eliminating mandatory reporting to ICE.

“The bills that are before us are essentially creating sanctuary cities for those counties and cities and towns that want to do that, which is nonsense to me,” said Sen. Bill Stanley (R-20).

A different version of that same bill would keep the reporting requirement for those who commit felonies. Lawmakers are still working out the differences in a conference committee.

“It’s perfectly reasonable for us as a country to say look, if you’re here illegally and you’ve committed yet another crime, we do have an obligation to protect our own citizens and send you back,” said Del. Nick Freitas (R-30).

Oyola said less than one percent of active deportation proceedings in Virginia involve someone with aggravated felony charges.

“Public safety isn’t inherently tied to immigration status despite what the national rhetoric would have us believe,” Oyola said.

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