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McAuliffe vetoes bill to disclose refugee records

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By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill Friday that would have required the state Department of Social Services to publish non-identifying information for refugees resettled across Virginia.

“Many individuals and families placed in Virginia through the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program are fleeing governmental oppression, persecution, and violence,” McAuliffe said in his veto statement.

“Many leave their countries because they are targeted by their home country’s government, often for helping to further American interests. Disclosing such information in this political climate not only sends a message of discrimination and fear, but it also poses a real danger to many of our newest Virginians.”

House Bill 2002, introduced by Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County, would have required immigrant resettlement agencies, such as the Catholic Diocese and the U.S. State Department, to report demographic information on refugees, including the total number of refugees, the localities in which they have been placed and other facts, to Virginia’s Department of Social Services. Those reports would then be forwarded to other government agencies, including the General Assembly and the governor’s office.

Supporters of the bill argue these reports would give government officials the ability to plan for benefits, health care and other related social costs, as well as lay out education-related expenses that would allow children of refugees to enroll in Virginia public schools.

McAuliffe said those requirements would instead put undue stress on the organizations in charge of resettling refugees.

“House Bill 2002 would create an unnecessary burden for already overworked nonprofit organizations and would limit these organizations’ ability to accomplish their mission of safely settling refugees in the commonwealth,” McAuliffe said.

The governor added that the regulations would also discourage those wanting to relocate from tenuous circumstances in foreign countries to the commonwealth.

“Refugees are in the United States legally,” he said. “They undergo a more rigorous screening process than anyone else allowed into the United States. Creating a publicly available list of these individuals would send a message of exclusion to people looking for the chance to rebuild their lives free of tyranny and oppression.”

“As Virginians, we know the many benefits and contributions that refugees bring to our communities and Virginia’s economy,” McAuliffe added. “House Bill 2002 sets us on the wrong path. It does not reflect Virginia’s values.”

The bill will now return to the General Assembly, where supporters will face an uphill battle in overriding the governor’s veto. In order to successfully countermand McAuliffe’s ruling, supporters would need to gather a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers.

With three Republican delegates already opposing the bill in the House and a 21-19 party-line split in the Senate, supporters would have to persuade more than a dozen legislators to flip their vote in order to enact the legislation.

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