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Virginia bill to bar 'sanctuary cities' sent to full Senate

State Sen. Dick Black, R-Prince William, gestures under a portrait of former Lt. Gov. J Sargeant Reynolds during the Senate session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

A bill aimed at prohibiting "sanctuary cities" in Virginia sparked an angry confrontation Monday between immigrant advocates and the state senator who sponsored the legislation.

The bill proposed by Republican Sen. Dick Black would bar localities from adopting ordinances or policies restricting the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

During a hearing Monday, about a dozen immigrants and advocates spoke against the bill before the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 8-6 to send the proposal to the full Senate.

After the hearing, Black was approached by several immigration advocates who angrily confronted him. A Capitol Police officer escorted Black away from the advocates after they began shouting at him.

Sanctuary cities have become a hot-button issue in the nation's immigration debate. A sanctuary city is a term without legal definition, but generally means a locality that limits cooperation with federal immigration enforcement activities. Some jurisdictions have refused requests from the federal government to detain people for possible deportation from the U.S.

Currently, no such cities exist in Virginia. Black's bill is aimed at keeping it that way.

"This bill very simply says localities won't pass rules or ordinances that prohibit cooperation with ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement)," Black said after the hearing.

Black said there is a large group of people "who don't want federal laws enforced."

"To me, the appropriate way to deal with their concerns is to go to Congress and say we want immigration laws changed," Black said.

Supporters of sanctuary cities say they help foster good relationships between law enforcement and immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

Ashna Khanna, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, said the group is opposed to Black's bill.

"We're worried that the result of such a bill will make our communities less safe," Khanna said. "People are going to be afraid to report crimes."

Khanna said there is no need for a law like the one Black is proposing because of the Dillon Rule, a legal principle adopted by the Virginia Supreme Court in 1896 that says local governments have limited authority and can pass ordinances only in areas where the General Assembly has granted clear authority.

Seema Sked, a Muslim-American who founded a group aimed at fighting President Donald Trump's travel ban on nationals from mostly Muslim countries, was one of the advocates who confronted Black.

"It vilifies the communities. Folks are hesitant to report crimes all across the board," she said.

Black was the only person who spoke in support of his bill. Gov. Ralph Northam vetoed a similar bill last year after it narrowly passed the GOP-led General Assembly along party lines.

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