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States Want Strict Immigration Law That Virginia Already Has

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By: Stephen Koerting*

Arizona’s Immigration Law S.B. 1070 made national news when it was passed by state legislation in 2010, and again when the Supreme Court sustained the law’s centerpiece in June of this year. Ever since the inception of the Arizona law that stirred national attention, several states have called for their own tough immigration law. In a recent Quinnipiac poll question, 62% of Virginian respondents favored a policy requiring police officers to check the immigration status of those suspected of being in the country illegally.

Many proponents would be surprised to learn that their state already had a strict immigration law passed.. In 2008, two years before Arizona made national news, Prince William County in Virginia had already passed a law that requires officers to check every person they arrest to determine whether they’re in the country legally. In addition to arrests, Virginia had mandated checks on admission to a state hospital, to obtain a driver’s license, Medicaid benefits and, in some cases, employment. Virginia Delegate Bob MacDonnell said, “We were pushing the envelope before anyone else was.”

While the Prince William ordinance pushed the envelope before Arizona, it raised concern and ire before Arizona as well. In addition to concern from immigrants and the public, criticism of the ordinance came from the county’s Police Chief, Charlie Deane. Similar to Arizona’s S.B. 1070, many worried that the ordinance would be costly to taxpayers, lead to accusations of racial profiling, and damage police-community relations. After only eight weeks, the ordinance was suspended and modified to address unconstitutional charges. The revision directed officers to question all criminal suspects about their immigration status once an arrest was made, rather than questioning only people suspected of being undocumented immigrants. Police Chief Deane said of the ordinance, “We made it very clear… that we were going to focus on individuals who had committed crimes, and that we were going to protect crime victims and witnesses regardless of their status, and we were not going to do racial profiling, roadblocks, sweeps or employment investigations.”

Studies show that the Prince Williams ordinance may have done what it set out to accomplish. The Prince Williams county police department paid for a study conducted by the University of Virginia and the Police Executive Research Forum that looked at data from 2007 through 2009. The 2010 study showed that initial fears about racial profiling had not been realized but still found that the number of illegal immigrants in the county had been reduced and violent crime had dropped, although it was inconclusive whether the drop was an effect of the policy.

The sheer subtlety and effectiveness of the Prince William ordinance suggests that reasonable states immigration laws are attainable. If states like Arizona are able to modify their immigration laws to more closely resemble the Prince William ordinance, then illegal immigration may be able to be enforced without racial profiling, and while remaining constitutional.

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*Stephen Koerting is a summer intern at Beach-Oswald Immigration Law Associates, P.C.

Filed under: Immigration Issues

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