Well, said the Republican, as Del. Alfonso H. Lopez (D-Arlington) remembers the conversation, those students aren’t “real Virginians.”
That was the prevailing view in the legislature as long as Virginia Republicans controlled the statehouse. It isn’t anymore. Democrats, who flipped both chambers in last fall’s elections, used their new power this year to enact several bills extending to unauthorized immigrants some of the same rights and protections they already enjoy in many other states. By law, those dreamers, who differ from their U.S.-born neighbors and friends only in their lack of documents, will soon become “real Virginians.”
Many Republicans in Richmond regard that as a form of militancy; virtually none voted for Mr. Lopez’s bill this year to enshrine in-state tuition in state law. That was the case even though about 1,500 undocumented Virginians, enrolled in the commonwealth’s public colleges and universities, already receive the subsidy thanks to a 2014 ruling by Attorney General Mark R. Herring, a Democrat. And even though the bill specifies that for a dreamer to be eligible for the lower tuition, their parent or guardian must pay Virginia state taxes.
In fact, about 20 other states — including conservative ones such as Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska and Texas — already have similar laws on the books, recognizing that it is senseless to educate promising youngsters through high school and then effectively block them from going to college. (At Virginia Tech, current tuition and fees are about $13,700 for state residents; for nonresidents, they’re nearly $33,000.)
Lawmakers also passed a bill to grant driving privileges, which must be renewed every year, to undocumented immigrants. That measure, sponsored by Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax), is a smart way to ensure that new drivers are at least minimally qualified and safe before they get behind the wheel. In addition to Democrats, a handful of Republican lawmakers backed the measure.
Another critical bill, passed with minimal GOP support, would encourage victims and witnesses to report crimes by prohibiting law enforcement from asking about their immigration status when they come forward. Police officers and sheriffs are and should be focused on fighting crime — not enabling it by scaring victims and witnesses into silence, which is just what has happened in some immigrant communities in recent years.
Those bills, and others expected to be signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), are a far cry from sanctuary policies. They promote public safety and individual potential — no small thing in a state with an undocumented population estimated at 275,000, where most are productive, law-abiding and fully integrated neighbors, colleagues and students in the American mosaic.