Saturday, February 18, 2012

H1060 and HB958: Potential Immigration Blunder at the State Level

Dear Members of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee:   

As a resident of Prince William County where a mandate similar to H1060 and HB958 was proposed and then significantly altered because of its negative effects on the economy and community, I urge you to vote against legislation (H1060 and HB958) that would erode further the relationships between immigrant communities and law enforcement, thereby placing said communities at greater risk of becoming victims of crime as well as potentially becoming subjects of racial profiling.  I have lived through the socioeconomic turmoil that bills like these create, and I assure you, it is not something anyone wants at the state level.

Virginia leads the nation in immigration enforcement measures and the state has done much already to address issues related to persons not lawfully present who commit crimes against persons and property, including a requirement that every person taken into custody at a jail have his/her immigration status checked (Virginia is one of two states in the country that do this). Virginia also has a presumption that persons in the country without authority should not be eligible for bail. Moreover, Virginia was one of the first states in the nation where the federal Secure Communities program has been implemented statewide.

More measures would place unnecessary pressures on police departments’ human and financial resources that should instead be focusing on fighting crime, not ID'ing undocumented immigrants.

I strongly oppose legislation (HB1060 and HB 958) that would take the identification of undocumented persons from the jails to the streets. Currently, all persons arrested and taken into custody and those convicted of crimes have their status checked on admission to jail or prison. Legislation to require every law enforcement officer (state or local) who places a person under arrest to initiate an inquiry into the person's immigration status would jeopardize public safety by taking the officer off the street while the inquiry is being conducted and by discouraging persons in immigrant communities from cooperating with local law enforcement in the effort to fight crime. In addition, the legislation is likely unconstitutional and will embroil the state in expensive litigation if passed.

The real answer to our country’s immigration concerns is comprehensive immigration reform at the federal level – not short-sighted state policies. No one wins when there are undocumented immigrants living and working in the shadows of the Commonwealth.


Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt
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