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Immigration Bills Pass in The General Assembly

People sitting
Several bills passed in the general assembly recently. (Craig Carper/ VPM News)


Megan Pauly: For VPM News, I'm Megan Pauly, immigrant rights advocates are celebrating the passage of several bills this General Assembly session that they've been working on for years now. And they're expected to have a huge impact on Virginia's immigrant communities. Legal and justice reporter Whitney Evans is here with me to break down some of those efforts. Hey, Whittney.

Whittney Evans : Hi, Megan.

Pauly: So what exactly has been happening this year? And how is it different from years past?

Evans: Well, obviously, there's been this political shift this year with Democrats assuming power of over both houses of the legislature, they've traditionally been more supportive of bills that would give undocumented immigrants in this state access to things like driving privileges and in state tuition at public colleges and universities. And that's really changed the mood at the General Assembly. 

Pauly: So let's dig into some of the specifics of what these bills do. Undocumented immigrants might soon be able to apply for driver's licenses, right? How does that work? 

Evans: So the House and Senate both approved bills that would repeal a 2004 law that requires anyone applying for a driver's license to prove they're in the country legally, applicants would still have to do things like prove their identity and pass a driving test. They say they'll be able to take their kids to school and drive to work without fear that they're breaking the law.

Pauly: So what about opposition? I understand there are many Republicans who don't want to see this pass. 

Evans: There's definitely some criticism that this would open the door to identity fraud. And there's fear that someone with one of these IDs could be mistaken for a legal citizen. There was a compromise made in the Senate that would provide for privilege cards driving privilege cards rather than a traditional driver's license. And that would make would essentially create a new card that is separate and not easily mistaken for a traditional driver's license.

Pauly: That's not exactly what immigrant rights groups wanted, right?

Evans: Yeah, that's right. They wanted to have a traditional driver's license because, you know, having a separate card entirely, makes it obvious that they are an undocumented person living in the state.

Pauly: The minimum wage has been another big priority for the immigrant community. How would proposals to raise this affect them?

Evans: It wasn't directed specifically at that population. But advocates say the proposed increase would really benefit the immigrant community, which is largely working class.

Pauly: Let's move on to in state tuition. both chambers have passed bills to allow some undocumented students to pay the same amount for college as students who are legal citizens living in Virginia, who exactly does this impact?

Evans: This would allow undocumented immigrants who attended a Virginia High School for at least two years and graduated on or after 2008 to get in state tuition. This removes the cost barrier that sometimes prevents undocumented students from getting a college education. Right now many young people who were brought to the US illegally as children have to pay more costly out of state tuition in Virginia that their in state peers would pay and they're not eligible for federal student aid. Also, Republicans have historically voted against this measure because Many say that this is just simply a federal issue.

Pauly: And there were some other bills that weren't necessarily top priorities but will ultimately have a big impact on the immigrant communities that have passed as well. Right? 

Evans: Yeah, there's this bill that would make sure that local law enforcement aren't asking about the immigration status of crime victims. The point is to encourage Crime Victims or witnesses of crime to cooperate with law enforcement on criminal cases. There's a big concern in the immigrant community that undocumented residents are under reporting crimes because of their fear or distrust in law enforcement.

Pauly: And it's important to remember that many of these bills and budget amendments aren't finished. While we have an idea of what's coming out of the session. There's still a lot of changes left to be made as bills crossover into the opposite chambers and as lawmakers hash out the budget. 

Evans: That's right, and we will be following those changes closely.

Pauly: Thanks, Whitney. 

Evans: Thank you, Megan. 

Pauly: And you're listening to Vpm News.


VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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