BY CHRIS HAMBY
THE CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
RICHMOND – Hanover Del. Frank Hargrove is skeptical about the future of his bill that would bar illegal immigrants from state public colleges and universities.
The bill, HB 262, won a 67-33 vote in the House, but it faces an uncertain future now in the Senate, where similar legislation was killed last year.
"The composition of the Senate hasn't significantly changed," said Hargrove, a Republican. "It would not surprise me to see the Senate kill it again. I think it would be wrong if they did."
Opponents of the bill say it would unfairly punish children of illegal immigrants and limit career advancement opportunities for immigrants. Some also believe it is bad for Virginia businesses that rely on immigrants for labor.
Hargrove defended his bill, saying priority in admission to the commonwealth's public colleges and universities should go to Virginians.
"Our public colleges and universities are created to serve Virginia citizens and other legal residents of this country," he said.
Del. Chris Peace, R-Hanover, co-sponsored the bill, which he described as "common sense."
"If we're already dealing with space issues for Virginians, then we certainly should not be letting people who are here illegally be admitted to our colleges and universities when the sons and daughters of Virginians are having a hard time getting in as well," he said.
Claire Guthrie Gastanï€™aga, a lobbyist for the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, said the coalition opposed the bill because, among other reasons, it was bad for the economy, it encouraged immigrants to join gangs and it sent a "strong message against inclusion."
"A bill that denies opportunity is a bad bill," she said. "It (HB 262) denies opportunity to a whole set of children who came here with their parents. It punishes children for the decisions their parents made."
Hargrove acknowledged the bill's negative impact on some children of illegal immigrants.
"It's sad, but you can't go picking and choosing," he said. "I grant you that there are some unfortunate circumstances, but I'm not going to willingly water down my legislation. I know it's going to affect some people who are relatively innocent."
Del. Kristen Amundson, D-Fairfax, voted against the bill. She said she heard strong opposition of the bill from the northern Virginia business community.
"It's bad for public education, and it's bad for business," she said.
Gov. Tim Kaine has said he would not sign the bill unless it is amended. His proposed changes include a provision that would allow college admission for immigrants age 18 and older who are in the process of becoming legal residents.
Amundson said she would likely support the bill with Kaine's proposed changes.
Hargrove said he might consider supporting Kaine's changes, but he would have to see them spelled out first.
An editorial in the University of Virginia's student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, with the headline "Overreaching from Richmond" said, "Without touching on the larger issue of illegal immigration, decisions about whom to admit to colleges should belong to the institutions themselves and not to politicians."
In response to this editorial quote, Hargrove said: "I think that's a lot of b.s. They come down here wanting money. Where does the money come from? It comes from the citizens. You bet your life we've got something to say about it. We set all kinds of rules for our colleges and universities. This is just another one."
Amundson and Gastanï€™aga both said they fully expected the Senate to kill the bill.
Even if the bill is killed, Hargrove said, the issue won't be dead.
"If I live to come back here next year, I'd do it again," he said. "Sometimes you have to do this type of legislation that creates a lot of public interest several times before it gets through."