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GOP Lawmaker Wants Governor’s Support to Ban ‘Sanctuary Cities’

By Fadel Allassan, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A Republican lawmaker is trying to get the Democratic governor’s support on a bill that would ban “sanctuary cities” in Virginia — a topic that was at the forefront of last year’s gubernatorial election.

Earlier this month, Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, introduced a bill that would stop localities from not fully enforcing federal immigration laws.  During a subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Cline said he won’t move forward with the bill until he reaches out to Gov. Ralph Northam to see whether  the governor could support a version of the bill.

Northam, however, has expressed doubts over whether such legislation is needed without evidence of any sanctuary cities in Virginia.

While there is no agreed-upon classification for what makes a city a sanctuary, the term is generally used to label localities that do not cooperate with federal immigration authorities. No Virginia localities have tried to adopt such policies.

Cline delayed his bill after a back-and-forth with a Northam aide who represented the administration before a House Courts of Justice subcommittee hearing Wednesday.

The delegate asked Northam’s aide to clarify the governor’s position on sanctuary cities in light of an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch less than a week before November’s election. Northam said he would support a sanctuary cities ban if any Virginia localities tried to adopt the status.

“My understanding is that if there were sanctuary cities, whatever they are, that he would work with you all to address that issue,” said Jae K. Davenport, deputy secretary of public safety and homeland security.

Cline asked Davenport whether the governor would support legislation if a locality tried to adopt sanctuary city policies.

“I think you’re trying to get into specifics,” Davenport said. “All I can tell you is that the administration opposes this bill.”

When Del. Robert Bell, R-Albemarle, asked Davenport if the governor had any suggestions on how the bill could be changed to get his support, the deputy secretary indicated the bill’s language was too broad.

The administration would have to work with Cline to “address a problem if it does exist,” Davenport said.

“I accept,” Cline responded, before asking the committee to give him until next Wednesday to speak with Northam.

Cline struck portions of his proposed bill that would have allowed the state to reduce funding to localities that were found to not fully enforce federal immigration laws.

Sanctuary cities became a hot-button issue last year when Northam’s GOP opponent, Ed Gillespie, said a vote the Democrat cast as lieutenant governor proved he would not crack down on MS-13, a criminal gang with roots in El Salvador.

When a bill to ban sanctuary cities came before the Senate last year, Republican Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-James City, broke with his party to oppose the legislation, forcing Northam to cast a vote to snap  a 20-20 tie. Northam voted against the bill to kill it.

When a similar bill came back to the Senate for another vote, Norment voted with his GOP colleagues to pass the legislation. The bill was then vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.  

Less than a week before last November’s election, Northam told a Norfolk TV station he would sign a bill to ban sanctuary cities if a Virginia locality tried to become one. But if no localities tried to do so, Northam later said to The Times-Dispatch, he would veto such legislation.

“It’s just bad legislation for the state to tell the cities what they should do,” said Linda Higgins, an advocate representing the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights at a news conference Wednesday.

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