Virginia action reflects growing state-federal tension on immigration

A federal judge’s ruling might have given President Obama a temporary victory in his administration’s suit against Arizona over its controversial immigration law, but a flurry of activity in other states suggests a much larger battle over immigration is in the works.

Last week, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli issued an opinion authorizing state and local police to check the immigration status of individuals stopped by police for any reason, echoing a provision in the Arizona law.

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The state’s governor, Bob McDonnell (R), has been working for months to reach an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to train state troopers to enforce federal immigration laws.

Observers on both sides of the issue said Cuccinelli’s ruling is unlikely to have significant implications for immigration enforcement, at least in the short term.

But it is the latest in a series of developments to reflect the growing tension between state governments and the administration over immigration.

Virginia is one of nine states formally backing Arizona’s immigration law.

Just days after the Obama administration filed suit to block the Arizona law, Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox filed a brief in federal court supporting the law on behalf of Alabama, Florida, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

“It is appalling to see President Obama use taxpayer dollars to stop a state's efforts to protect its own borders,” Cox said in a statement.

The controversy surrounding Arizona’s law has not deterred other states from trying to pass nearly identical legislation.

Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform, said the recent uproar has forced some states to take action.

“The American public has reached a point with the administration’s refusal to [enforce immigration laws] and are demanding that state and local governments do something,” Mehlman said.

As of June 30, five state legislatures — South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Michigan — have introduced immigration legislation similar to Arizona’s, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Bills in Utah, Florida and Texas are expected shortly.

Supporters of the Arizona law say this kind of activity at the state level reflects the American people’s growing frustration with the Obama administration’s approach to immigration enforcement.

The administration argues the Arizona law usurps the federal government’s authority on immigration matters and has called for comprehensive reform at the national level. 

Rep. Luis GutierrezLuis Vicente GutierrezThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democratic primary fight shifts to South Carolina, Nevada Democrats rally behind incumbents as Lipinski takes liberal fire Dem leader says party can include abortion opponents MORE (D-Ill.) told The Hill he shares the national frustration over immigration enforcement, but said legislative action by states was not the answer.

“The American people want one set of national rules that govern immigration and enforcement,” Gutierrez said.

The latest poll numbers favor the Arizona law’s supporters.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News survey, nearly 60 percent of Americans nationwide approve of the Arizona law. 

A recent Quinnipiac University Poll showed that voters want an immigration law like Arizona’s in their home state, by a 48-35 percent margin.


Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, said this puts the president in an “unenviable” position politically, between satisfying a liberal base that hates the Arizona law and the growing number of conservative Democrats and independents who support it.

“President Obama would much rather the whole thing just go away, but the issue just keeps boiling,” Krikorian said.

As more states take immigration matters into their own hands, the pressure on Congress and the administration to act is growing.

“It’s going to be impossible to duck the issue,” Krikorian said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidNevada congressman admits to affair after relationship divulged on podcast Overnight Energy: 600K clean energy jobs lost during pandemic, report finds | Democrats target diseases spread by wildlife | Energy Dept. to buy 1M barrels of oil Bottom line MORE (D-Nev.) has promised several times to bring a comprehensive immigration reform bill to the floor, but efforts have stalled due to stiff Republican opposition and unease among some moderate Democrats.

Immigration is certainly high on the minds of voters going into midterm elections this November.

Ten percent of respondents in a recent Gallup survey listed immigration or illegal immigration as the nation’s most pressing problem, the highest percentage in more than two years, according to the polling agency.

That might be good news for the GOP, though some Democrats have accused Republicans in Congress, and state officials like Cuccinelli, of sensationalizing the immigration issue for political purposes.

“This all seems like another GOP immigrant hysteria tactic cooked up in the back room of Fox News Channel or wherever they gather to compare notes,” Gutierrez said.