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This article was originally published on December 16, 2006.

As the 2007 Virginia legislative session draws near, Tahirih is actively engaged in monitoring and advocating against legislative proposals that would endanger immigrant women and girls fleeing gender-based violence in Virginia. Calls for the enactment of a state-wide “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) that would empower state and local law enforcement with federal immigration enforcement powers are particularly concerning to Tahirih and advocates.

Although a bill proposing such an MOU last year (HB 487) was defeated due to the concerted opposition advocacy of Tahirih and a broad coalition of other Virginia organizations, it will be revived this upcoming session (as HB 1618), so the threat posed by this and related proposals remains real and imminent.

What threat do these MOUs actually pose? They would create an instant “chilling effect” on immigrant communities so as to jeopardize not only the safety of battered immigrant women and girls, but public safety in general. Community trust and confidence in law enforcement is vital to effective policing. But an MOU would destroy that trust, as even documented immigrants will be deterred from reporting crimes and aiding the police for fear that their legal status, or that of their loved ones, will be called into question and they might risk deportation.

Thus, MOUs would actually help dangerous criminals to intimidate their victims into silence, avoid prosecution, and continue to prey on some of the most vulnerable members of our communities, including battered immigrant women and girls. Piling immigration enforcement functions on the full plates of state and local police would also burden them with what are properly federal responsibilities left to specially trained agents, and would misdirect state and local police (and funds) from their local crime-fighting priorities.

Recognizing the threat that MOUs pose, Tahirih responded swiftly to the introduction last legislative session of HB 487 by mobilizing grassroots opposition as well as engaging in direct opposition advocacy. As a founding member of VA-SCOPE (the Virginia Alliance for Sensible Community Policing Efforts, a coalition which works to promote trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement), Tahirih rallied over 45 immigrant and victim advocacy organizations and leaders from across Virginia to oppose the bill and spearheaded a sign-on letter to Virginia legislators. Tahirih, along with its partners, also made lobby visits to state Senators and testified at a committee hearing.

Despite our coalition’s success last year in holding an MOU at bay, Congress’ failure to enact comprehensive immigration reform has provoked a rash of renewed interest in local immigration enforcement. In early October of 2006, the Town of Herndon passed a resolution to enter into an MOU, and other towns across Virginia are considering similar measures.

All indications are that a number of bills pushing for local immigration enforcement will be proposed in the 2007 Virginia General Assembly session. Tahirih, along with its allies, will again work vigorously to defeat such proposals.