Governor Kaine addressed the issue of illegal immigration in his State of the Commonwealth address. He put some important facts on the table and urged balance in the discussion of the issue during the 2008 legislative session. Here's what he said:
“Securing the Commonwealth’s future also means that we must set aside political rhetoric and carefully address the most complex and challenging issues we face – like illegal immigration.
We are a nation of laws. It is our obligation to enforce those laws, and we should continually assess the consequences of illegal immigration.
It is equally important to recognize the many positive benefits of legal immigration. We cannot afford to let supercharged political rhetoric unfairly paint a picture of Virginians as a people who are hostile to New Americans.
The debate about illegal immigration needs to begin with a recognition of steps we have already taken.
Virginia law already prohibits any person who is not legally in the country from receiving state or locally funded benefits, with only a few exceptions, like education, emergency health care and care for contagious diseases.
When a Virginia State Trooper comes in contact with a person suspected of being in the country illegally, he or she contacts Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Eighty percent of those reports made since March 1st of last year have resulted in ICE beginning deportation proceedings.
The state police also participate in regional task forces that target violent gang activity by illegal immigrants.
The Virginia Department of Corrections notifies ICE of any foreign-born offender who is convicted and placed in state custody. Our Department of Motor Vehicles works hard every day to scrutinize drivers’ license applications to determine whether people are lawfully in the Commonwealth, and our Virginia Guard helps patrol the border between Arizona and Mexico to help federal enforcement agents. Virginia has done much to pick up the slack for broken federal immigration policy.
There will be more proposals on immigration this year, and we should scrutinize them carefully. In doing so, we have to balance the need to enforce our laws with a few important realities.
One in ten Virginians was born outside of the United States, and most of us can trace our ancestors back to another country in only a few generations. The majority of immigrants today are legal and fully contribute, strengthening the social fabric of our communities.
Our Jamestown commemoration recognized the positive and transforming power of immigration—and of those that welcome immigrants. Immigration continues to invigorate our culture, provide new energy to our economy, and expand our view of the world.
Did you know that, in 2007, foreign companies announced over $750 million of investments in Virginia, creating over 2000 new jobs? Many of these jobs were created in parts of our Commonwealth that are hungry for economic development. We are in fierce competition for those jobs, and we cannot afford to give the world the impression that Virginians are not willing to engage with people from other countries in global commerce.
And it’s not just about new business opportunities or foreign investment in our communities. Many long-time Virginia businesses, especially in the agricultural sector that still represents the largest part of our economy, are dependent on immigrant workers. We should not punish law-abiding businesses or hinder their ability to grow and create jobs.
In this critical area, as in all others, we have a responsibility to go beyond sound bites, to take the debate seriously, and to spend the time it will take to craft a balanced response to our challenges.”