Virginia legal opinion authorizes checks of immigration status

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II issued a legal opinion Aug. 2 that authorizes law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone stopped by police officers for any reason, according to The Washington Post. Virginia law enforcement officers previously were required to investigate the legal status only of those who were arrested and jailed.

Cuccinelli's opinion is less severe than the recently blocked portion of the Arizona law, which required Arizona authorities to question people who they have a "reasonable suspicion" are illegal immigrants.

"Our opinion basically said Virginia law enforcement has the authority to make such inquiries as long as they don't extend the duration of a stop by any significant degree," Cuccinelli says. "That's consistent with Supreme Court authority."

Cuccinelli's opinion also included that Virginia law enforcement officers can arrest those they suspect of committing criminal violations of immigration laws, such as crossing the border, but not those they believe have violated civil immigration statutes, such as overstaying visas. However, he says checking immigration status is different than arresting for a violation, and that law enforcement can inquire.

The opinion was issued in response to a request from Del. Robert Marshall (R-Prince William), who wanted clarification regarding whether local police, conservation officers and zoning officials could inquire about legal immigration status. He made the request because he feared the Democrat-controlled Senate would not approve legislation that permits law enforcement officers to inquire about legal status during routine stops.

Marshall has written to Gov. Robert McDonnell (R-Va.) to ask him to codify Cuccinelli's opinion through executive order; he believes Virginia can avoid legal trouble by allowing—but not mandating—the immigration status checks. McDonnell is expected to review the opinion.

Of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., 275,000 to 325,000 live in Virginia.

Date : 8/10/2010