Tahirih Justice Center and the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance (VSDVAA) partnered again this year with Virginia General Assembly Senator Janet Howell in support of a statewide bill (SB 1436) that would prevent law enforcement from asking victims and cooperating witnesses of crimes about their immigration status.
This critical legislation would help counteract the severe “chilling effect” that exists due to immigrant victims’ fear and confusion about what treatment they can expect from police—deterring crime-reporting and help-seeking, hindering law enforcement investigations and prosecutions, and undermining public safety for us all.
Before and after introduction, Tahirih worked hard to build a broad base of support for SB 1436, including outreach to new faith-based and law enforcement allies. The bill was off to a strong start, with a favorable referral from the Senate Courts of Justice Committee followed by unanimous passage by the full Senate. However, when SB 1436 crossed over for consideration by the House of Delegates, the Speaker unexpectedly assigned the bill away from the House Courts of Justice Committee. House Courts had held a hearing just last year on a similar bill, SB 441, and passed it. But SB 441 fell short of passage by the full House by only six votes, so Tahirih had high hopes to carry the bill over the finish line this year.
Tahirih had laid years of groundwork before House Courts and had developed solid bi-partisan support. Five co-patrons of the bill sat on House Courts, including the chair of House Courts and the chair of a key subcommittee. The referral of SB 1436 away from House Courts stacked the odds against the bill’s further progress. An additional obstacle was the last-minute scheduling of a subcommittee hearing on the bill at 7:30 a.m., which prevented testimony by some key police witnesses.
Despite the early hour, Tahirih was grateful for a very strong showing of support from allies around the state, including the Richmond Police Department, the Virginia Organizing Project, VSDVAA, the Virginia Interfaith Center, the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations, the Virginia Poverty Law Center. Many others who could not make the hearing, including Fairfax County Police Chief Dave Rohrer and Alexandria Police Captain Eddie Reyes, made calls, wrote letters, or sent emails encouraging passage of the bill.
Still, on Feb. 19, 2009, the subcommittee voted against the bill. This decision prevented SB 1436 from reaching the full House for a floor vote and ended hopes for the bill’s passage during this legislative session.
Although SB 1436 will not move forward this year, an incredible and growing coalition is mobilized to advocate for this legislation in the future. Tahirih gives thanks to the many organizations and individuals who stepped up in support of SB 1436. While deeply disappointed by the turn of events this year, Tahirih plans on redoubling their efforts to get this vitally important bill passed during the next legislative session!
This ongoing issue highlights Tahirih’s three-part approach to protect immigrant women and girls fleeing gender-based violence. Along with the public education and public policy intiatives described above, Tahirih continues to provide legal services to directly serve the clients they have seen affected by increased immigration enforcement.