Story by Chris Graham
Emmett Hanger has come under fire from Scott Sayre in their contest for the 24th Senate District Republican Party nomination for his efforts to get legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants meeting several specific conditions to qualify for in-state tuition benefits.
We asked the two candidates to discuss their positions on the issue in our interviews with them for this week’s “New Dominion” Internet radio podcast.
“When you look at this bill that he has now patroned two years in a row – last year, ’06, it was Senate Bill 677, and this year, it was Senate Bill 1204 – it gets rejected each year because of the loophole that he continues to hold and adamantly hold in there that provided that these individuals sign an affadavit and say that they are actively pursuing citizenship, then you go ahead and give them in-state tuition. That is just patently wrong. You’re either a citizen, or you’re not a citizen. You ask an illegal immigrant, Are you going to do this for us so that we can go ahead and give you this money and give you our children’s slot in college? Of course they’re going to say yes. So on the funding side of things, it’s just not right for us citizens to be using our tax dollars to support in-state tuition for non-citizens.”
“But more than that, think of this – do you want your son or daughter’s college slot given to someone who’s not even a citizen? They have only so many in-state college tuition slots in our state colleges and universities. Do you want your child or daughter left behind because an illegal immigrant took their spot? I don’t think so.”
“The policy and law is already there – you’re either in-state, or you’re not in-state as far as your tuition goes and your citizenship goes. We ought to just leave it the way it is.”
“What’s happening with this patronage – two years in a row now of in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants – is the Latino groups are catching onto this, and they’re using Sen. Hanger as an example of progressive legislation out there to support illegal immigration and the citizenship and the voucher system and the ways that they get more rewards for illegal behavior. What I’m saying is this – our senator is being used as an example by these groups to foster more rights to be provided to individuals who are acting illegally. And once you start rewarding illegal behavior, you get the ball rolling, and it’s hard to stop. We need to stop right away any of these rewards for illegal behavior and send a message – get your citizenship.”
“Back in 2004, I introduced a bill that would require verification of legal presence here in our country and in Virginia in order to receive any taxpayer-funded benefits. With a lot of controversy, I was able to get that through the Senate – but the House hadn’t engaged on that yet in 2004, they didn’t realize that it was an important topic, and they killed my bill. The next year, the issue was heating up, and I ran the same bill through the Senate, and then this time it went through the House, and Gov. Warner, over the opposition of some of the groups in Northern Virginia, went ahead and signed the bill – and it’s regarded as really the most significant piece of legislation that we have passed dealing with illegal immigration in Virginia. It requires that individuals show proof of legal presence in order to qualify for taxpayer-funded benefits – and that’s been very important.”
“The next step that I took was to say that individuals who are here illegally – illegal immigrants – would not be eligible for in-state tuition, because there’s no clear state policy on that right now, and it remains at the discretion of the individual colleges and universities. So I sponsored that bill. In the process of getting that through, I accepted what I view is a very common-sense amendment, which would allow a certain small group of individuals with a carefully defined set of circumstances to be able to qualify.”
“Here’s the problem – back in 1982, the Supreme Court ruled that when children present themselves for public education, K-12, that the schools, the local governments, could not screen them any way, could not verify whether or not they were here legally. As a result of that, students enroll and go all the way through K-12 education without the school system knowing whether they’re here legally or not.”
“What happens is you have these children that are here because their parents brought them over as toddlers, they have brothers or sisters who are here that are U.S. citizens, because they were born after they arrived here – and in spite of whatever status their parents might have, when those children graduate from high school and turn 19, then all of the sudden, they are illegal, and they have to try to go through the process with the Office of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement in order to get their paperwork squared away so that they can be legal.”
“It’s a mess. The federal government bureaucracy dealing with immigration is basically just a total mess. And these people just spend years trying to get through the process. What I’d said was, if you’re here illegally, you’re not entitled to in-state tuition – but if you are a Virginia resident, if you are one of these children that has been here, gone through the school system here K-12, graduated from a high school here in Virginia, your parents or guardian were living here in Virginia while you were attending high school, and they paid taxes to the state of Virginia for at least three years prior to your graduation, if you have applied for, say, admission into Blue Ridge Community College, and have been accepted, and if you’re in the process, and this is very critical, if you yourself are in the process of completing your paperwork and all the criteria to become a naturalized citizen, then you can go to Blue Ridge with your friends after you graduate from Waynesboro High School or Fort Defiance High School or Lee High School. And there are individuals in our community like that”
“Too many people have the idea when you say illegal immigrant that it’s somebody who last week snuck across the border and is out running drugs somewhere – and there are people like that, and we need to round them up and get them out of here. In fact, we have currently in Virginia about 1,100 illegal immigrants in our state correction system – which are costing us a lot of money – and we have 1,000 at any point in time in our local jails. So it’s a huge problem – and I’ve actually been a leader on this issue in trying to come up with appropriate state policy.”
“It remains a federal issue in large part because the federal government is going to have to secure our borders and take care of their messed-up bureaucracy – or we’ll never get a fix on it.”