State Senate measure would target sanctuary cities

RICHMOND (AP) — Under a measure the state Senate approved Monday, Virginia communities that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities could be sued over crimes committed by people living in the country illegally.

The bill designed to crack down on sanctuary cities comes after President Donald Trump signed an executive order last month to strip funding from such communities.

Conservative states across the country have considered a variety of anti-sanctuary city bills since the president’s order. Liberal states have instead moved to add protections for immigrants in the country illegally.

The bill from Republican Sen. Richard Black would make sanctuary cities liable for crimes committed within their locality. It advanced on a 21-19 party line vote.

The measure would help prevent the increasingly common national practice of localities disregarding federal immigration law, Black said during debate on the measure.

About 300 localities nationwide have sanctuary city-like policies, including Virginia’s Arlington and Chesterfield County, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for lower immigration levels.

Black, who represents parts of Loudoun and Prince William counties, also said that the bill would help victims of crimes committed by people in the country illegally – who often have little recourse.

In a 2016 file photo, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe waves to the members of a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Gov. Terry McAuliffe is vowing to veto Republican-sponsored legislation designed to crack down on sanctuary cities.

McAuliffe’s spokesman, Brian Coy, said the Democratic governor would veto any bill that makes Virginia localities enforce federal immigration laws. Coy also said the governor views the bills as “attempts to divide and demonize people.”

Several Democrats who spoke against the bill said it would leave the wrong people financially accountable.

“It seems to me you’re asking the taxpayers to pick up something which is not really their responsibility,” Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw said.

Democrats also argued that the bill would be difficult to enforce because it defines a sanctuary city as one that acts intentionally to restrict the enforcement of immigration law.

“I don’t know how you would ever prove that,” said Sen. John Edwards, a Democrat from Roanoke.

The issue of sanctuary cities gained greater prominence after the 2015 killing of 32-year-old Kate Steinle, who was fatally shot  in San Francisco while she walked along a popular city pier. A man who had previously been deported, then released by local law enforcement, was charged in her death.

Trump repeatedly mentioned the killing of Steinle during his campaign as he called for a border wall and other measures to curb illegal immigration.

Last week, Mayor Mike Signer said he is considering making Charlottesville a sanctuary city and is looking into ways to add protections for immigrants and political refugees.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney issued a directive on Monday that says the city will promote policies of inclusion for all residents regardless of immigration status. Although it does not label Richmond as a sanctuary city, it does say police will not ask individuals for their place of birth or immigration status.

Black’s measure still needs approval from the House of Delegates, which debated a different sanctuary city-related bill Monday. This measure from Southwest Virginia Republican Del. Charles Poindexter would prohibit localities from adopting “any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.” The chamber advanced the bill despite opposition from Democrats, but it still needs a final vote.