Gov. Northam

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday rejected two Republican-backed immigration bills that would have banned “sanctuary city” policies and required local law enforcement agencies to notify federal immigration officials of undocumented immigrants in their custody.

“The safety of our communities requires that all people, whether they are documented or not, feel comfortable, supported and protected by our public safety agencies,” Northam said in a written statement explaining his veto of the “sanctuary cities” legislation introduced by retiring Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun.

Senate Bill 1156 would ban Virginia localities from adopting policies that are “intended to restrict the enforcement of federal immigration laws.” While the term “sanctuary cities” is loosely defined, no Virginia locality has claimed the designation, though localities handle requests from federal immigration officials differently.

Northam vetoed similar legislation last year, and voted against another similar measure in order to break a tie while presiding over the Senate as lieutenant governor in 2017.

That vote became a point of attack for Republicans during Northam’s run for governor. Northam defended his vote by arguing that the legislation was meant to “promote fearmongering” in a state with no cities claiming to be sanctuaries.

Days before the November 2017 election, however, Northam vowed to sign legislation prohibiting sanctuary cities if any locality in the state moved ahead to become one.

“If that bill comes to by desk ... I sure will. I’ve always been opposed to sanctuary cities,” Northam told the Portsmouth TV station WAVY.

Northam’s veto message Tuesday did not signal opposition to sanctuary cities.

“Police divisions across the commonwealth have a long tradition of engaging in community policing strategies, and many have determined that it is more important to develop a relationship with immigrant communities in order to keep safe all of those who live within the locality,” Northam said. “This legislation would strip localities of that autonomy.”

Black, who introduced the bill, pushed back on Northam’s comments that the bill would hamstring localities’ funding and manpower.

“It does not,” Black said. “It just says localities must not adopt policies that interfere with federal enforcement. I think he was struggling to put words down, while encouraging sanctuary cities to pop up in Virginia.”

Northam also vetoed House Bill 2270, introduced by Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County. It would require officials in charge of a local correctional facility or a regional jail to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the scheduled release date for any undocumented immigrant in their custody.

“Local and regional correctional facilities have, and should retain, discretion to determine how they choose to engage with federal immigration agencies,” Northam said in a written statement to explain his veto of that bill.

Matt Moran, a spokesman for Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, cited a report about the case of Hugo Perez-Augustin, a Guatemalan man who was caught twice in the U.S. illegally.

“The Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a front-page story this month on an immigrant in Virginia illegally who was convicted of sexually assaulting a minor,” Moran said in a written statement.

“Is it really too much to require law enforcement to notify immigration officials before they put a criminal like this back on the streets? Not everyone enjoys the privilege of living behind a wall like the governor.”

Both bills cleared the legislature on closely divided votes. Republicans would need a two-thirds vote in both chambers to override Northam’s veto. Republicans have a 51-49 edge in the House and a 21-19 edge in the Senate.

Tuesday’s actions bring to five the number of bills Northam has vetoed this year. The legislature returns April 3 to take up the governor’s vetoes and proposed amendments.

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mleonor@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6254

Twitter: @MelLeonor_

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