Virginia’s crusading attorney general Ken Cuccinelli has a new cause: ensuring that Virginia keeps up with Arizona in the race to become the most anti-immigrant state in the union.
On Friday, prompted by an inquiry from Republican Governor Bob McDonnell, Cuccinelli decreed that Virginia police can grill people about their immigration status when stopped for traffic violations or at police checkpoints:
A 2008 Virginia law requires that law enforcement check the immigration status of anyone taken into custody on suspicion of having committed a separate crime. Cuccinelli’s opinion could expand such inquiries to those who have been legally stopped by law enforcement, for instance those pulled over for a traffic violation or at a police checkpoint.
Cuccinelli writes in the July 30 opinion that while local law enforcement have the ability to arrest those they suspect of committing criminal violations of immigration laws but not those they believe have violated civil immigration statutes. But he says inquiring into status is different than arresting for a violation and that law enforcement can inquire. While it is a crime to illegally cross the border, many other immigration violations are civil offense, like overstaying a valid visa.
"Virginia law enforcement officers have the authority to make the same inquiries as those contemplated by the new Arizona law. So long as the officers have the requisite level of suspicion to believe that a violation of the law has occurred, the officers may detain and briefly question a person they suspect has committed a federal crime," he writes.
In Virginia, official opinions of the attorney general are considered law unless a judge disagrees with the legal analysis after an opinion has been challenged in court.
A similar provision in Arizona’s law was blocked by a federal judge last week before it could take effect. Arizona’s law required police to make such checks when they suspect that a person they have stopped is in the country illegally, whereas Cuccinelli’s pronouncement merely allows police to make that check. The effect, however, is similar: state police are given the broad authority to determine whom to quiz about immigration status in situations that are unrelated to immigration. And, however many racial profiling disclaimers are written into a law, a regulation like that is going to unduly burden Virginia’s Latino residents, who now must be prepared to prove their immigration status every time they drive to the grocery store.