FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
February 7, 2018
Contact: Jason Stanford, 804-698-1049, DelALopez@house.virginia.gov
House Committee Rejects Bill Encouraging Crime Victims and Witnesses to Speak with Police
RICHMOND, Va. – On Wednesday afternoon, the House Courts of Justice Subcommittee #1 voted against a bill that would have made it easier for victims and cooperating witnesses of crimes to come forward, report crimes, and assist in prosecutions without fearing that their immigration status will be questioned. HB 953 struck the right balance between giving police the latitude they need to effectively investigate violations of state and local law, and giving immigrant victims and witnesses the limits and reassurances they need to feel safe about contacting the authorities.
The bill - sponsored by Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) and Delegate Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William) - was supported by the Virginia ACLU, Governor Northam, Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, New Virginia Majority, the Virginia Catholic Conference, Virginia Poverty Law Center and the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.
“Over the last year, we’ve seen a dramatic drop in crimes being reported among New Americans. This is especially the case in parts of my community with large Hispanic populations,” said Delegate Lopez. “This is about increasing public safety, which should not be a partisan issue. Law enforcement needs victims and witnesses of crimes to come forward. Otherwise our entire communities are made less safe.”
According to recent article in the New Yorker in which reporters requested public records in Arlington County, over the first 8 months of 2017 domestic assault reports in one Hispanic neighborhood decreased by more than eighty-five percent. In addition, reports of rape and sexual assault in the same community dropped by seventy-five percent.
“There is a real fear in the Hispanic community that coming forward to the police will result in immigration enforcement actions against witnesses, victims, and their families,” added Delegate Guzman. “Refusing to create a uniform statewide policy to address that fear only emboldens criminals to take further advantage of Hispanic and immigrant communities, which creates a ripple effect that threatens the safety of all Virginians.”
In a recent opinion piece in the Roanoke Times authored by Claire Gastanaga – executive director of the Virginia ACLU – and former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, this bill was listed as an opportunity for bipartisan agreement this session. Despite receiving unanimous bipartisan support in the State Senate in previous years, the bill was passed by indefinitely along party lines this year in the House of Delegates.
On the campaign trail last year, Republicans campaigned on addressing gang violence from groups like MS-13. The bill was passed by indefinitely despite arguments from advocates that this legislation would prevent groups like MS-13 from preying on Virginia’s immigrant communities.