Virginia, A State Latinos Helped Swing Democratic, Shifts Tactics on Immigration

By Diego Graglia, FI2W web editor

NY·DF/Flickr

Manassas and other parts of Virginia have seen a heated debate on immigration. Photo: NY·DF/Flickr

This year’s elections showed that the use of immigration as a campaign issue apparently backfired for enforcement-only, hardline candidates. Now the results are starting to have an impact on policy: Virginia, where immigration laws are among the toughest in the nation, seems poised to radically alter its approach towards immigrants.

The Washington Post reported this week that the Virginia Commission on Immigration is about to send Gov. Timothy M. Kaine a set of recommendations, “most of which would help immigrants instead of penalizing them.”

Virginia was one of several traditionally-red states that swung Democratic this year. Latino voters there have been credited with helping President-elect Barack Obama win the state.

Now, “backlash at the voting booth” is cited as one reason for the new attitude towards immigrants, together with a lack of interest in the issue due to the economic crisis and “a clearer understanding of the state’s limitations on a largely federal issue,” The Post‘s Anita Kumar wrote.

Recommendations include shortening the Medicaid residency requirements for certain qualified immigrants, offering in-state tuition to immigrants who meet specific criteria and creating an immigration assistance office.

The commission considered but did not adopt proposals to force immigrants to carry special identification cards, allow hospitals to fingerprint patients who do not pay their bills and require proof of legal residence to be eligible for public assistance.

Other proposals include increasing the number of English classes and creating a plan to address the needs of foreign-born residents. The commission also urged the federal government “to compile more complete immigration statistics, increase the number of visas for foreign workers and pass comprehensive immigration legislation.”

According to the newspaper’s own surveys, only 1 percent of likely voters rated immigration as a top issue before the November election.

The Virginian shift was applauded by the blog The Latin Americanist, which said “the commission’s ideas represent a necessary compromise designed to push the immigration debate forward rather than be stuck in petty bickering (…) Hopefully, states like Virginia will comprehend that a more proactive approach on immigration is the best way to go.”

But over at Vivir Latino, the perspective was quite different:

While I can appreciate the move, I am not fooled for one moment that this is a display of a sudden understanding of the human side of immigration. This is about money. With the economy in a downward spiral and anti-immigration measures, rhetoric, ICE raids and hate crimes are pushing immigrants further into the shadows and even back home.

While some celebrate this as a victory for the anti-immigrant forces, the truth is that this equals huge economic losses, as immigrants put more into the economy than what they cost.

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