The United States is a nation of immigrants. Yet with every new wave of immigration, the settled population becomes fearful and denies human dignity to the new arrivals. In the tradition of the Know-Nothing Party and the 1920’s Red Scare, today’s authoritarian right again deflects the blame from the system of wealth to poor, hard-working immigrants with anti-immigration legislation.
During this past legislative session, Delegate Poindexter joined the authoritarian tradition of attacking immigrants with House Bill 2000. He dressed up the anti-immigration bill as ensuring the rule of law by preventing Virginia localities from protecting foreign-born Virginians from Trump’s out-of-control immigration police. Virginia legislators knew that this bill would arouse the fire of the people, and used the lax procedures of the General Assembly to push the bill through.
Delegate Charles Poindexter (R-9) introduced the anti-immigrant House Bill 2000 at the beginning of session. The procedural chicanery began immediately. After Poindexter’s bill was referred to the House Courts of Justice Committee, the committee stealthily reported the bill late in the evening, with little public notice or oversight. The public outcry caused the committee to reconsider the bill, where I saw the farce begin.
The bill bounced around the General Assembly, first dying in the Senate Local Government Committee, with the senators split six in favor and six opposed; only to be revived for reconsideration. Committee chairman Senator Bill Stanley (R-Senate District 20) explained the revote, as if the audience were kindergarteners, they would reconsider any bill if a senator’s vote wasn’t recorded.
In a packed hearing room, Stanley announced a recess because Senator Charles Carrico (R-Senate District 40) was“stuck in traffic.” Six hours later the committee returned and Stanley explained no trickery was involved in reconsidering the bill or the recess. The long committee recess just happened to last long enough for many of the bill’s opponents to leave.
The Rule of Law
Despite these furtive efforts, private citizens and local, community, and faith-based organizations came to register their opposition to the bill. No one came forward to defend the anti-immigrant bill in the rehearing.
Poindexter’s HB2000 reads:
No locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.
The bill prohibits localities from restricting enforcement of immigration law to the full extent permitted by federal law. In effect, this wording would require Virginia localities to enter into 287(g) agreements with federal immigration authorities. A 287(g) agreement is a part of the disastrous Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. Currently, local governments have no responsibility for immigration law. If a locality enters into a 287(g) agreement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), local authorities take responsibility for enforcing federal immigration law.
Today, Prince William County is the only Virginia locality to have a 287(g) agreement. Besides spreading fear among the immigrant community while finding few criminals, implementing the agreement cost the county an additional $6.4 million dollars its first year, according to the Brookings Institute. The county had to raise taxes and slash funding for other needs.
Trump-Troopers versus the “Un-Americans”
Under 287(g) agreements, localities become responsible for enforcing federal immigration laws. Police would be required to check the citizenship status of every person taken into custody. Schools would have to check the documentation of children. Immigrants might have filled out every last form, but end up being dragged from their homes and families by Trump-Troopers while they wait for their visa to come in the mail. Immigrants would no longer turn to the local police for help with crime, and, besides destroying the lives of the undocumented, everyone would be less safe. ICE has already targeted the most vulnerable of the immigrant community in Virginia. Six men were swarmed by ICE after leaving a church hypothermia shelter in Alexandria.
Of course, local authorities would not check the status of every person–only those who don’t look or act ‘American’. Any person, citizen or not, who speaks Spanish or other languages, or wears a hijab, would be seen as an un-American. The “un-Americans” would be detained over and over again by Virginia police.
A Presentation in Prejudice
Poindexter’s stance on anti-immigrants comes right out at the opening of his presentation. This is a “public safety bill,” to prevent the “bad apples” among the immigrant community from committing crimes and then retreating into the safety of a sanctuary city. In his view, immigrants are uniquely dangerous.
It is not clear what Poindexter thinks a sanctuary city is. Does he believe that sanctuary cities suspend criminal law enforcement? We’ll never know. The near-comatose and mumbling Poindexter was unable to answer basic questions about the consequences of the bill. Senator Jennifer McClellan (D-9), a voice of reason in this madness, asked Poindexter if the bill required localities to enter into 287(g) agreements. He could only reply, “I don’t read it that way.”
‘Sanctuary city’ is a slippery term, and has no legal definition. Such cities are often defined as refusing to cooperate with federal immigration law enforcement. A sanctuary city does not restrict the enforcement of federal immigration law because it wouldn’t be able to. A sanctuary city just announces that it won’t enforce that law for the federal government. Nor does any law require any locality to do so, unless HB2000 passes. There are no sanctuary cities in Virginia.
The Rule of the People
The senators made quite a spectacle of defending the rule of law. Many of the senators recited their rule-of-law argument even after Claire Guthrie Gastanaga from the Virginia ACLU ably and thoroughly explained there was no threat to the rule of law.
But let’s talk about the rule of law. Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution of Virginia states:
That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community;… and, whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.
The law of Virginia itself gives to the people the “indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right” to disobey the government when it tramples upon the “happiness and safety” of the people. And ICE’s Stormtroopers, arresting people outside of courts and shelters, are an imminent threat to that happiness and safety. In short, if a majority of a local community decides to reform, alter, or abolish its relationship to federal immigration law, it has that right by the state’s constitution.
But we do not need to appeal to the constitution to justify resistance to unjust laws, anti-immigration or otherwise. Any child knows what these senators do not: you do not obey unjust laws. Every citizen not only has the right but a duty, to resist such laws. Sanctuary cities continue the tradition of the Underground Railroad and the Fugitive Slave Acts, shielding those denied the protection of the law from predators.
If you live in the district of any of these senators, tell them that their vote will cost them their office:
Amanda F. Chase (R-11) | Capitol: (804)-698-7511 | District: (804)-698-7511
Charles W. Carrico, Sr. (R-40) | Capitol: (804)-698-7540 | District: (276)-236-0098
Bill R. DeSteph, Jr. (R-8) | Capitol: (804)-698-7508 | District: (757)-321-8180
Siobhan S. Dunnavant (R-12) | Capitol: (804)-698-7512 | District: (804)-601-8151
Emmett W. Hanger, Jr. (R-24) | Capitol: (804)-698-7524 | District: (540)-885-6898
William M. Stanley (R-20) | Capitol: (804)-698-7520 | District: (540)-721-6028
Glen H. Sturtevant (R-10) | Capitol: (804)-698-7510 | District: (804)-601-4046
 “Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g) Immigration and Nationality Act.” US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Retrieved from: https://www.ice.gov/factsheets/287g
 Audrey Singer, Jill H. Wilson, and Brooke DeRenzis (2009) “Immigrants, Politics, and Local Response in Suburban Washington.” Brookings Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/0225_immigration_singer.pdf
 – (2012) “The 287(g) Program: A Flawed and Obsolete Method of Immigration Enforcement.” Immigration Policy Center. Retrieved from: https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/sites/default/files/research/287g_fact_sheet_11-2012_0.pdf
 Tess Owen (2017) “Cold as ICE.” Vice News. Retrieved from: https://news.vice.com/story/ice-agents-arrest-men-leaving-hypothermia-shelter-in-virginia
 Va. Const. art. I, §3 Retrieved from: http://law.lis.virginia.gov/constitution/article1/section3/