Cline Puts Hold on Sanctuary City Ban Bill in Hopes to Gain Governor’s Support

After hearing opposition from the governor’s administration, Del. Ben Cline, R-Amherst, is hoping to work on local immigration enforcement with Gov. Ralph Northam this week.

Cline’s bill, House Bill 1257, was heard in the House Courts Subcommittee on Wednesday. After hearing opposition from the governor’s representative, Cline asked if he could pass by the bill for the week – preferably so that he can work on it with the governor.

Del. Ben Cline (virginiageneralassembly.gov)

Cline’s bill would prohibit so-called “sanctuary cities.” There is no clear definition for a sanctuary city, but they are generally defined as cities that do not share residents’ information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Last year, a similar bill passed both the House and the Senate. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed it, saying that the legislation does nothing more than send a hostile messaged to the immigrant communities across Virginia.

Northam had initially supported the former governor’s veto. But on the campaign trail for governor, he said that he would sign a similar bill if it would come across his desk.

“If that bill comes to my desk … I sure will. I’ve always been opposed to sanctuary cities,” said Northam in an interview with Norfolk TV station WAVY last fall.  

Although Virginia cities like Richmond and Alexandria have declared themselves as “inclusive” to immigrant communities, no Virginia locality is officially a “sanctuary.”

“It’s basically a message bill,” said Charlie Schmidt, public policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia (ACLU). “It’s a message bill out to jurisdictions to say you need to not be a sanctuary city.”

Schmidt said the bill only creates confusion for local law enforcement, which makes decisions based on public safety and not immigration. 

Cline’s bill is in line with the Trump administration’s move to crack down on sanctuary cities. The administration has accused sanctuary cities of violating a federal law that prohibits local governments from restricting information about the immigration status of people arrested from being shared with ICE.

Opposition to the bill believes it is not the localities job to enforce federal immigration laws.

“We have a tremendously broken immigration system and it’s not up to Virginia, or any locality, to necessarily get involved with any sort of rhetoric that’s going on at the federal level,” said Schmidt.