Virginia and ImmigrationVirginia and Immigration

For decades, the issue of Immigration has been a matter of great concern and controversy within the United States political environment.  This discussion has been surrounded with concerns over economic, social, and humanitarian factors which have functioned to sustain the debate surrounding Immigration reform and policy. Policymakers have been unable to draft and reach a consensus on universal Immigration reform.

As a result, Immigration continues to be a hotly contested topic not only at the national level but also at the state level.

OnAir Post: Virginia and Immigration


For decades, the issue of Immigration has been a matter of great concern and controversy within the United States political environment.  This discussion has been surrounded with concerns over economic, social, and humanitarian factors which have functioned to sustain the debate surrounding Immigration reform and policy. Policymakers have been unable to draft and reach a consensus on universal Immigration reform.

As a result, Immigration continues to be a hotly contested topic not only at the national level but also at the state level.

OnAir Post: Virginia and Immigration


The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. (Susan J. Demas/ Michigan Advance)

In 2016, Virginia-based immigration lawyer Hassan Ahmad sent the University of Michigan a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to access sealed papers donated to the university by John Tanton, a prominent anti-immigration activist from Michigan.

But the public university denied the request until 2035.

After years of lower court battles and lawsuits, the issue went before the Michigan Supreme Court Wednesday.

The initial interest in the boxes of papers stored in the university’s library began when Ahmad saw a photo of former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is known for his strong anti-immigration policies, with then President-elect Donald Trump in 2016. Kobach at the time was vying to be Trump’s pick to head the Department of Homeland Security.

Steve Bannon and Kris Kobach speak at Cobo for a “We Build the Wall” event, March 14, 2019 | Ken Coleman

Ahmad said he feared what Trump’s administration would mean for his clients and what he would be able to do as an immigration attorney.

So Ahmad started looking into who in Trump’s cabinet could affect immigration policies and what they believe.

“Well, if Kris Kobach is going to be the type of person that’s going to be brought into this administration, we need to figure out who else is going to be on there and where they are tied to,” Ahmad said. “And the more you look, all roads lead back to John Tanton.”

So who is John Tanton?

Tanton, who died in 2019 in Petoskey, Michigan, from Parkinson’s disease, is known as the founder of the modern anti-immigration movement.

He was a leader in population-control activism and promoted eugenics, heading organizations like Zero Population Growth. He also chaired Sierra Club’s National Population Committee and founded the Northern Michigan chapter of Planned Parenthood.

Tanton pushed for English to be the only national language of the United States, a border wall with Mexico and a limit on the number of authorized immigrants allowed in the country.

He founded a network of anti-immigration organizations, commonly known as the Tanton Network. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Tanton established seven organizations, including the Center for Immigration Studies, Federation for Anti-Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Social Contract Press. He also funded another five anti-immigration organizations and sat on the board of Population-Environment Balance.

“They’re the ones that end up filing amicus briefs and advising members of Congress and policy makers and getting quoted in the media as simply the opposing side to immigration,” Ahmad said. “All the while never being taken to task seriously on the fact that their founder and ethos was rooted in eugenics, race science and White nationalism.”

Many of Tanton’s beliefs helped shape core conservative policies on immigration, which Trump campaigned on and pushed for throughout his presidency.

“I knew who [Tanton] was, but I didn’t appreciate the centrality of his role in actually building this entire movement,” Ahmad said. “It was then that I came across for the first time the fact that he had donated his papers to U of M-Ann Arbor. And when I went on to the Bentley Historical Library website, I found curiously that half of his papers were sealed until 2035.”

Tanton donated 25 boxes of documents to the university under the agreement that 10 of the boxes not be “utilized, possessed, or retained in the performance of any official University function.”

Ahmad became invested in finding out what is in those sealed boxes.

The battle for the papers 

Hassan Ahmad

Ahmad submitted a FOIA request to U of M for access to the 10 sealed boxes, thinking that it wouldn’t turn into much of an issue, he said.

But the university fought him tooth and nail, denying his initial request and denying him again when he appealed. So in 2017, Ahmad sued the university.

“I started to think that there must be something here,” Ahmad said. “What’s going on? Why are they fighting so hard to keep these papers secret?”

According to the university’s library, the sealed boxes contain FAIR meeting minutes dating back to 1979, nine folders labelled ‘Pioneer Fund,’ which is a group that promotes eugenics, folders on state-specific immigration policies, information on a number of anti-immigration organizations and Tanton’s private correspondences.

The lawsuit was initially thrown out by the state’s Court of Claims ruling in favor of the university. But in July 2019, the state’s Court of Appeals dismissed the lower court’s decision, ruling that the sealed documents are public records and should be made available.

The university then appealed the case to the Michigan Supreme Court.

“The reason the university appealed this case to the state Supreme Court is because we do not want would-be donors to be deterred from donating private records of historical significance to a historical library at a public university, in this case, the Bentley Historical Library,” U of M spokesperson Rick Fitzgerald said. “That would negate FOIA’s purpose of enhancing public access to information and make it more difficult for scholars, students and the broader public to understand Michigan history, including its flaws and its challenges.”

For Ahmad, the issue with this lawsuit and the challenge from the university is two-fold.

Michigan Supreme Court | Susan J. Demas

Ahmad says the case is a government transparency issue, but he also believes the public deserves how key immigration policies that integrated in our current political climate originated.

“I think it’s problematic. Aside from the public importance of public interest in these papers that shed a light on the intellectual blueprint of the entire movement that has been creating the policies that we’ve seen implemented over the past four years, it’s just a basic issue of government transparency,” Ahmad said. “I mean should a public entity, like the University of Michigan, be allowed to contract this way around FOIA and not even have to show the contract? That’s really what this case is about right now.”

In Ahmad’s lawsuit, he includes a 1989 letter from the Bentley Historical Library asking to preserve Tanton’s papers, where the university states that the papers “reflect his important role in virtually every major contemporary conservation effort in our state and nation.”

“I think it’s a bit disingenuous for the university to now claim that they are worried about the potential chilling effect this could have,” Ahmad said. “Look, there’s a number of different things Tanton and the university could have done if he really was that concerned about not passing on his papers. He knew he was dealing with a public university. He obviously was concerned about who was going to see his papers, and it would have been very easy for him to either bequeath them to the university in his will or to create a trust to have the papers pass after a certain period of time. He did none of that.”

Ahmad believes that under Michigan’s laws, the papers are public records and subject to FOIA because they are possessed by a public entity.

The university isn’t arguing that any FOIA exemptions, such as sensitive law enforcement information, apply to the papers, Ahmad said.

“They’re not saying that any of those apply. What they’re saying is that the papers will not become public record until April 6, 2035,” said Ahmad. “There is no exemption that says that you can contract your way around. The issue is: When does a document that is given to a public entity or created in the public entity become subject to FOIA? And the answer to that question is when it is used as asked or retained by that public entity in furtherance of an official purpose … It’s kind of hard for the university to argue that they weren’t doing it for an official purpose when they were the ones seeking the papers out to begin.”

‘It’s high time’ to trace the history of these policies

“There’s something in there that even Tanton thought was not worthy or needed to be hidden until 2035 when he knew that he was going to be long gone,” Ahmad said.

But there has been a shift in politics in the last four years. An emboldened right-wing has echoed the Tanton-esque policies that energized Trump’s rallies and built his base.

People have asked Ahmad whether or not he would drop the fight now that President-elect Joe Biden is gearing up to take over the White House in a few weeks, but the issue has existed long before Trump’s political power and will likely carry on beyond Biden, Ahmad said.

“I would remind them that [anti-immigration activists] have been able to be successful and push their policies regardless of who’s in the White House. Except now, they have a galvanized and organized base,” he said. “They have succeeded, installing immigration reform under both Democrat and Republican administrations. There is no reason to expect that they will not be able to do the same under Biden.

“So we ignore these groups at our own peril. They are emboldened, they are well funded, they are together, they are coherent. And I think it’s high time that they be called to task for where they actually came from.”

Immigration advocates push Biden to not just bring back DACA but expand it
Virginia Mercury, Ariana Figueroa November 24, 2020
DACA recipients and their supporters rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 18, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Virginia is for Lovers’ just became just a little more real for immigrants
Virginia Mercury, Ariana Figueroa March 20, 2020

‘Virginia is for Lovers’ just became just a little more real for immigrants

By Luis Angel Aguilar

As an immigrant growing up undocumented in Virginia, my love for my community was challenged by a slew of anti-immigrant policies on a local and state level that treated me and the powerful undocumented immigrants in my life as subhuman. Although immigrants made enormous contributions to the commonwealth both economically and especially culturally, our elected officials seemed determined to drive us away.

Although it is easy to talk about the turnaround to this saga in the last 60 days of the Virginia General Assembly session, this is really a story that begins in 2017. The first Virginia election after Donald Trump took the White House, emboldened Democrats — including immigrants — ran for election in traditionally Republican seats. We knew the people truly inspiring voters were candidates like Kathy Tran and the Elizabeth Guzman – compelling immigrants who would finally put a face on the emerging political power of my neighbors and friends.

The upside of annual elections in the commonwealth is that every year is an opportunity to win better representation.  Each election cycle has an immigrant story to tell. The 2018 election saw the defeat of Dave Brat, a congressman largely viewed as having been elected in repudiation of Eric Cantor’s comparative openness to immigration reform. The 2019 election truly transformed political power in the commonwealth, not only flipping the state House and Senate but shifting power up and down the ballot. Prince William County – home to Corey Stewart, the worst anti-immigrant official in Virginia – elected a board of supervisors that overnight became majority Democratic and majority African-American.

Immigrants were among the electorate that helped power these shifts. Both by launching aggressive electoral programs like ours and also by voting. By 2018, more than half a million immigrants in Virginia were eligible to vote. And those numbers don’t reflect new voters like my sister Felisa Aguilar, who voted for the first time in 2019 and entered a voting booth focused on achieving justice for our undocumented mother. One in 11 Virginians is a U.S.-born child of an immigrant and like Felisa, they are racing to the voting booth.

Fast forward to the General Assembly session that just ended. Legislators made payment on a moral debt owed for years of immigrant bashing in the commonwealth. Together with partners, our organization successfully fought for driving access for the undocumented community, in-state tuition for undocumented youth, and increased financial support for English learner students in our K-12 system. Other campaigns led by organizations like Legal Aid Justice Center, NAKASEC, and the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy reduced ICE-police collaboration and established an Office of New Americans.

Not bad for 60 days.

Our work isn’t over.

As long as Prince William County and other localities still have 287g agreements under which local law enforcement acts as ICE agents, there is a huge body of work left to be done. And, after all, the election staring us down in 2020, an election that literally, as a DACA-holder, determines my capacity to remain in the United States, may be the most important of my lifetime.

But it is important to take a brief pause and celebrate with our members and neighbors that since January the Virginia is for Lovers tagline became just a little more real for immigrants. We are left with the ultimate lesson taught by Ella Baker that “Give light and people will find the way” and this process has been full of light and hope for our community.

House, Senate pass long-anticipated immigrants’ rights bills
Virginia Mercury, ate Masters and Ned OliverFebruary 12, 2020
The Capitol at dusk. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Legislation extending driver privileges and in-state tuition regardless of immigration status, pushed for years by advocates for Virginia immigrants, cleared both chambers of the General Assembly Tuesday.

“There’s a growing cognizance that these are communities who need licenses and in-state tuition,” said Monica Sarmiento, the executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights. “They’re filled with talented people who already contribute to the Virginia economy and need a path forward to build their own prosperity.”

Advocates packed the Capitol for the vote on driving privileges, filling an overflow room where an interpreter translated the debate as unfolded on the floor of the Senate.

“It’s very, very important for me – this moment,” said Ingrid Vaca, who immigrated from Bolivia 20 years ago and lives in Alexandria. She teared up as she described deciding between driving without a license illegally, risking arrest and deportation, and spending two-hours traveling by public transit every morning to her job cleaning houses.

“My life was in the hands of all the people who voted today,” she said.

The Senate voted 22-18 to adopt its version of the legislation, which allows undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver privilege card.

To obtain the card, they will have to meet all the requirements necessary for obtaining a standard driver’s license, but must also have filed an income tax return. The cards would have text on the top stating that it is “not valid identification for federal, voting or public benefit purposes.”

Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, proposed the measure. He argued many undocumented immigrants are currently driving illegally. Making sure they passed driving tests and are insured will make roads safer. He also described it as a critical quality of life issue.

“People need to be able to get to a job, take their kids to soccer, go to the doctor,” he said. “It’s an absolute necessity. This is one of the few bills we’re going to vote on this session that will change over 100,000 lives the moment it becomes law.”

The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a nonprofit policy group in Richmond, estimated the new law would result in between 124,500 and 160,792 new drivers being licensed, generating a minimum of $10 million in new title fees, sales tax receipts, license plate fees and new car registrations.

The House’s version of the legislation, proposed by Del. Kathy Tran, D-Fairfax, is somewhat more permissive, granting undocumented immigrants the ability to obtain traditional driver’s licenses with no special restrictions. It passed Tuesday on a 57-42 vote.

Under both bills, the credential would not serve as a Real ID, a new standard the federal government is rolling out nationwide, which will be required to board airplanes and enter certain federal facilities.

The House and Senate will now debate the differences between the two versions of the legislation.

‘We invest millions of dollars in these kids’

Both chambers passed another bill on Tuesday that makes undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state tuition.

Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, said he had to hide his tears when his version of the legislation passed the House 56-44 to a round of applause from advocates. (The lone Republican yes vote was Del. John Avoli, the former mayor of Staunton who immigrated to the United States from Italy at age 10.) This was the ninth consecutive year that Lopez introduced the bill and the first year it advanced out of committee onto the House floor.

The bills make all students eligible for in-state college tuition, regardless of immigration or citizenship status, as long as they’ve attended high school in Virginia for at least two years or graduated since July 1, 2008. Students would also be eligible if they’ve passed a high school equivalency exam since 2008.

Undocumented students are currently ineligible both for in-state tuition rates and federal aid programs such as student loans and work-study programs.

“In my neck of the woods, I’ve met students who should be going to MIT and Cal Tech who can’t afford Northern Virginia Community College,” Lopez said. “We invest millions of dollars in these kids and then put up a stop sign saying, ‘No, you can’t go any further.’”

A 2019 report from the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute found that roughly 2,000 undocumented students graduate from Virginia high schools every year, according to the most recently available data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A fiscal impact statement from the state’s Department of Planning and Budget found the bills would have an undetermined impact on revenue. It would depend on how many undocumented students transition from out-of-state to in-state tuition rates.

Neither the House nor Senate bill would apply to immigrants who temporarily move to the United States for school or temporary work. But the Senate version, which passed Tuesday on a 21-19 party line vote, also allows prospective students or their parents to use Virginia income tax returns to prove they’ve been residing in the state. Undocumented students — or their legal guardians — would be required to submit at least two years of tax returns prior to their date of college enrollment.

In both versions of the bill, students could also use proof of high school enrollment or graduation in Virginia to show they’ve been living in the state.

Under both bills, immigration and citizenship information would only be used for determining in-state tuition eligibility. Both chambers will debate the differences between the two versions of the legislation.



From Tim Kaine’s website

Tim knows that for far too long, our immigration system has unfairly kept millions of people who contribute to the United States living in the shadows of our society. He has spoken out forcefully against the Trump Administration’s treatment of Dreamers, discriminatory travel bans, proposals to limit legal immigration, and attempts to tear families apart.

Tim strongly opposed President Trump’s decision to end the DACA program, which allowed recipients—known as Dreamers—who were brought here at a young age, to live, work and study in their communities without fear of deportation. After Trump ended DACA and left Dreamers in limbo, Tim helped lead the bipartisan negotiations to find a solution that protected Dreamers, create a path to citizenship, and boost border security. Their proposal received bipartisan support from the majority of Senators but did not receive the 60 votes needed to pass after the Trump Administration announced its opposition to the bill. Tim is also a strong supporter of the Dream Act that would protect Dreamers from deportation and create a path to citizenship.

Tim supported the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, bipartisan legislation to provide a better visa system to encourage growth of a talented workforce, protect Dreamers, enhance border security, and create a path to citizenship for those living in the shadows. Tim delivered the Senate’s first ever floor speech in Spanish making the case for the comprehensive immigration reform bill.

Kaine has spoken out against the rise in deportations of law-abiding immigrants that are ripping families apart. Tim takes pride that the United States is a nation of immigrants. Since the nation’s founding, the men and women who have come to this country from around the world have been integral to our society, bringing skills and talents that help ensure we remain competitive in a global economy. In the years since Tim was born, Virginia went from ranking 35th to 12th in individual personal income, propelled in part by the influx of immigrants to our communities.

Tim has also been a leading voice in Congress on the importance of protecting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) recipients who are living in the U.S. after being displaced by dangerous conditions in their home countries. Tim has urged the Trump Administration to extend and re-designate TPS for several countries where threats still exist and to protect TPS recipients by giving them the opportunity to gain permanent residency in the United States.

From Mark Warner’s website

Senator Warner supports a comprehensive approach to immigration reform. He voted in favor of bipartisan, commonsense immigration reform that would strengthen border security, and offer a tough but fair path to citizenship for millions of undocumented immigrants who are already living, working and paying taxes in the United States. He has also introduced proposals that would reform our immigration system to meet the needs of an innovation-driven 21st century economy by making it easier for entrepreneurial and highly skilled immigrants educated at U.S. colleges and universities to stay here and create jobs after graduation.

US House Members

From Gerry Connolly website

Congressman Connolly believes Congress must be a partner in solving our immigration challenge. He has fought for bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship, keep families together, and secure our borders. Congressman Connolly supports a pragmatic and results-oriented approach to border security.

He is a strong supporter of the DREAM Act and programs like the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA), and Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Northern Virginia is home to many talented DREAMers and TPS holders and Congressman Connolly has seen firsthand how much they contribute to the success of our community. Immigrants enrichen our community, strengthen our economy, and provide our the United States with an entire generation of diverse, future leaders.

Congressman Connolly firmly believes that America’s doors must remain open to those fleeing injury, violence, or persecution. He led the fight in Northern Virginia against efforts to bar refugees and has introduced legislation to establish a minimum goal for the number of refugees resettled in our country.

From Bobby Scott website

Congressman Scott supports fair and humane immigration policies that will keep our borders secure and our citizens safe, assure that those who are fleeing violence and oppression are not thrust back into danger, prevent families from being ripped apart, promote a flourishing economy, and treat all individuals who attempt to enter into our country with respect and dignity.

Congressman Scott also believes that Congress must work together to build a fair, effective and commonsense immigration system that lives up to our heritage as a nation of laws as well as a nation of immigrants. He co-sponsored and voted for the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019. Congressman Scott stands ready to work with his colleagues on comprehensive  reform of our broken immigration system in a fair and humane way.

General Assembly


HB 2270 Incarcerated aliens, certain; release from jail, notice to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. 

Chief Patron: Delegate Charles D. Poindexter and Delegate Mark L. Cole 

Status: Passed House (2/5/19) Passed Senate (2/18/19)

HB 1315 Higher educational institutions, public; students, determination of domicile.

Chief Patron: Delegate Kaye Kory 

Status: Assigned Education sub: Post-Secondary and Higher Ed  (on 1/13/2020)

HB 262 Inquiry and report of immigration status; certain victims or witnesses of crimes. 

Chief Patron: Delegate Alfonso H. Lopez 

Status: House: Referred to Committee for Courts of Justice (12/30/19)

HB 1209 New Americans, Office of; created within Department of Social Services. 

Chief Patron: Delegate Kathy. K.L. Tran 

Status: House: Assigned HWI sub: Social Services


Immigration Advocates

Casa de Virginia 

International Rescue Committee 

Northern Virginia Family Service 


Anti Immigration Organizations

American Immigration Control Foundation 

Federation for American Immigration Reform 


Virginia and Immigration

For decades, the issue of Immigration has been a matter of great concern and controversy within the United States political environment.  This discussion has been surrounded with concerns over economic, social, and humanitarian factors which have functioned to sustain the debate surrounding Immigration reform and policy. Policymakers have been unable to draft and reach a consensus on universal Immigration reform.

As a result, Immigration continues to be a hotly contested topic not only at the national level but also at the state level.

OnAir Post: Virginia and Immigration

Virginia and Climate Change

With more than 10,000 miles of shoreline, Virginia’s coastal region is home to about 70 percent of the commonwealth’s population and much of its economic power, from the federal government centers of Northern Virginia to the the sprawling defense installations of Hampton Roads, where Naval Station Norfolk is the world’s largest naval base and enormous quantities of goods and resources like coal regularly transit the Port of Virginia.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, using data from Virginia’s longest-operating tide gauge at Sewell’s Point in Norfolk, has found that the state has seen more than 18 inches of relative sea level rise in the past 100 years. Agency projections show that under the highest sea level rise scenarios, Sewell’s Point could see water levels rise by almost 6.7 feet by 2100.

OnAir Post: Virginia and Climate Change

Virginia and College Affordability

Current Situation:
The data show that Virginia has above-average in-state tuition and below-average per-student tax appropriations. Tuition and fees at Virginia public research, four year, and two year institutions in 2017-2018 are among the highest in the US.

When viewing this post, select the Feature Image to view the chart’s details.

How to make higher education more affordable for Virginia residents particularly lower income students while expanding educational opportunities and controlling costs?

OnAir Post: Virginia and College Affordability

Virginia and Guns

Gun control has been a highly debated and partisan issue across the United States since the Columbine High School massacre of 1999.  In 2007, Virginia experienced its own mass shooting, one of the deadliest in American history, when 33 were shot and killed on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg on April 16, 2007.  The debate on gun control continued to grow in Virginia this year following the mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building on May 31st, 2019, which killed thirteen.

Candidates for the 2019 general assembly were quick to make their positions clear on gun control following the shooting, with many democratic candidates promising to enact gun control legislation should they be elected, while republican candidates vowed to protect the second amendment rights of Virginians.  Since the democratic take over following the elections on November 5th, majority conservative counties have begun to declare themselves as gun sanctuaries in defiance of the gun control promises of the newly elected democratic general assembly. As the new year and the beginning of a new general assembly session grows closer, gun control will surely continue to be a strongly contested matter between the will of the people and their newly elected representatives.

OnAir Post: Virginia and Guns

Virginia and Abortion

Current Situation: Although the Roe v. Wade landmark supreme court case took place over 40 years ago, abortion is still a highly debated civil rights issue in American and Virginian politics.  Pro life and pro choice activists continue to spar over the perceived benefits and risks of increased access to abortion, and multiple pieces of legislation relating to the topic of abortion are presented in both the Virginia General Assembly and the United States Congress every year.

Abortion is a highly controversial and sensitive topic, and abortion activists on both sides of the aisle have found it hard to achieve common ground on legislation.

OnAir Post: Virginia and Abortion

Voting and Redistricting

For years, redistricting reform advocates have been arguing something should be done to curb Virginia’s long history of political gerrymandering.

On November 5th, voters overwhelmingly agreed, passing a constitutional amendment that largely strips the General Assembly of its authority to redraw legislative and congressional districts, a historic shift in a system that dates back to Virginia’s colonial beginnings.

Wielding that power instead will be a 16-member, bipartisan redistricting commission made up of both sitting lawmakers and citizens, a panel designed to conduct its business publicly as opposed to the secretive, insider-driven processes of the past.

In a year of intense partisan division, the idea of depoliticizing the redistricting process seemed to draw broad support across parties and regions. With almost 90 percent of expected votes counted early Wednesday morning, about 67 percent of Virginians had voted in favor of the amendment.

From Virginia Mercury article on Nov. 4, 2020 (see Top News for full article)

OnAir Post: Voting and Redistricting

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