The House of Delegates has advanced a slate of anti-illegal immigrant bills, including one that would require Virginia's public colleges to bar undocumented students from enrolling and another that would deny public benefits to people in the country illegally.
The House voted 75-24 Tuesday to approve Del. Christopher Peace's bill, which would amend state law to require colleges to have written policies explicitly denying enrollment to people who are in the United States illegally. Federal law prohibits undocumented students from paying in-state tuition or receiving federal aid, but they can still pursue a public college education.
Virginia's public two- and four-year institutions currently have the discretion to decide whether to admit illegal aliens as long as they charge them out-of-state tuition. Policies vary from school to school.
Opponents of the bills, which passed largely along party lines, said they would unfairly penalize children of immigrants, and would deny them a path to a productive life.
"The bill is punishing children for what their parents did," Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax County, said of the higher-education legislation Tuesday on the House floor. "Clear and simple, that is what it does."
The House voted 83-16 to approve Del. David Albo's bill requiring localities to verify that people are legal U.S. residents before providing them state or local public assistance, except for assistance mandated by federal law. The legislation also allows for the withholding of state funding to agencies or localities that fail to do so.
Also approved Tuesday was a bill that would allow Virginia State Police to perform certain immigration law-enforcement functions, including arresting and detaining criminal aliens, under an agreement with federal authorities.
"This does not deal with laborers, it does not deal with school children," bill sponsor Del. Jackson Miller, R-Manassas, said before his legislation passed 78-20. "It deals with criminals and criminals only."
Other legislation approved Tuesday would require local law-enforcement officers to ask about a person's immigration status when making an arrest, and would require increased use of e-Verify, the federal system that checks new hires' immigration status.
The House also approved a bill that would require local school divisions to collect data on the number of students enrolled in English as a Second Language courses and report such data to the state Board of Education. The bill also would require school divisions to report the number of students whose parents are unable to provide their children's birth certificates when they enroll.
Several House Republicans have said such legislation is needed to address the problems and costs of illegal immigration, which they say is a result of a broken federal immigration system.
The bills face an uphill battle in the Democrat-controlled Senate.