Friday, November 4, 2011

Virginia’s off-off-year (and extremely important) election

Will Virginia be the next Alabama when it comes to immigration policy?

That question hangs in the balance ahead of Tuesday’s “off-off-year” election in the state I call home. One party’s slim majority in the state Senate is the only barrier keeping us from severe measures like those adopted in Alabama—and Georgia and Arizona before it.

The problems these laws are causing go way beyond those Stephen Colbert highlighted in a mostly brilliant segment last week. Even the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which is not known for its liberal bent, highlighted labor shortages and other economic problems such laws cause.

Think it couldn’t happen in Virginia? I’d rather not take the chance. Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, a lobbyist and political consultant with thorough knowledge of Virginia politics, has written an immigration-policy outlook for the 2012 Virginia General Assembly session. First, she points out that Virginia has almost 50 laws on the books that directly affect immigrants, most of which “are restrictions on the rights or benefits of ‘aliens’ or immigrants, including the rights and benefits of persons lawfully present in the United States.”

She goes on to forecast 25 bills likely to be introduced in 2012, listed under law enforcement, business and employment, social and medical services, education, and housing. All but two would have a negative impact on our neighbors who are immigrants.

Voter turnout tends to be low when we’re not voting for president, lower still with no congressional seats up. This off-off-year we’re not even voting for governor—maybe we should add another “off.”

But make no mistake: This election is big. I care about living in a state that lets its children go to school without fear, that doesn’t want to encourage racial profiling by police and underreporting of crimes to police, that recognizes the economic contributions of all of its residents. Those who agree should approach this election with the same fervor we have when we’re electing a president.

What kind of state do we want to live in? On Tuesday, we have an outstanding opportunity to answer that question.

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