Democratic Virginia Governor Mark Warner dealt a significant blow to Latino and poverty activists in Virginia yesterday when he signed HB 1798, patroned by Fairfax County Republican Dave Albo, which requires proof of legal presence from those seeking government assistance. "It's very disappointing," the Washington Post quotes Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada (D) chairman of the Virginia Latino Advisory Commission, "It serves no other purpose but to fan the flames of anti-immigrant sentiment . . . and that is simply wrong."
Social service workers have been concerned that the anti-immigrant sentiment the bill embodies will effect many more people than the adult illegal immigrants who are the new law's targets. Many immigrants are already afraid that if they seek services like the FAMIS child health coverage assistance programs (for which all children are eligible regardless of immigration status) they will be turned in to federal officials and deported.
Social service workers have also expressed their dismay at the additional burden this will place on their already imposing workload. State employees whose job it is to ensure that services reach those in need will now have to do the work that federal immigration officials have failed to do, policing federal immigration law.
In addition to the mean-spirited public policy this legislation enacts, it is a political mistake for Virginia's Democratic party. Virginia is estimated to have as many as 250,000 illegal immigrants, most of whom are hard-working, tax-paying residents who do the dirtiest jobs. Over the next decades, many of these people may settle here, becoming citizens themselves or giving birth to children who are American citizens. Gaining the support of this growing portion of the electorate is essential to the long-term health of the Democratic party. Governor Warner should be taken to task for not only signing this "brochure bill" created by right-wing Republicans looking for an election year advantage, but for helping to alienate this growing constituency.