On Wednesday (Feb. 7), the House Courts of Justice subcommittee #1 debated dog kenneling for forty-five minutes (a very long time right before crossover). Meanwhile, the two bills of highest priority for immigrant communities and a high priority for faith communities couldn’t even get heard.

The first bill, HB 343, sponsored by Delegate Boysko (D-Fairfax and Loudoun Counties), and several other similar bills, would allow all students who meet Virginia residency requirements to get in-state tuition. This means that the DACA holders, who will soon lose their DACA status unless Congress addresses the issue, could continue to qualify for in-state tuition.  Yanet Amado, a junior at Virginia Commonwealth and a leader in Virginia Intercollegiate Immigrant Alliance says, “I love Virginia. I love VCU. I want to finish my education and stay here to work. I can’t afford to continue without in-state tuition.”

The second bill, HB 580, sponsored by Delegate Bloxom (R-Accomack & Northampton Counties) and several other similar bills, would create a drivers’ privilege card for immigrants who pay taxes in Virginia and have passed the driving test. Fr. Jack Podsiadlo, priest at Sacred Heart Catholic Church and Sacred Heart Center, says, “Many of my parishioners are afraid to drive to church or take their kids to school without driving authorization. This common-sense approach makes the roads safer for all of us.”

Whether or not you agree with the thrust of these bills, they deserve to be heard and considered by the House of Delegates. They are at least as deserving as dog kenneling.

The bills were submitted in plenty of time. Instead of being assigned to the House Education Committee, as one would expect, HB343 was assigned to the Rules Committee. And there it sat…….and sat…. and languishes still. Likewise, HB580 was referred to the Transportation committee (chaired by Del. Yancey, who also patroned the dog kenneling bill), but was never placed on the agenda for a hearing. Immigrant rights advocates and the Virginia Interfaith Center began pressing Speaker Cox and Delegate Yancey to hear the bills. Speaker Cox refused to meet with students who’ve visited his office almost daily. Both Speaker Cox and Delegate Yancey denied the bills fair hearings. Thus far, Speaker Cox has refused to bring them to a floor vote, which he could even without a committee hearing. Time is running out.

These bills matter to real people and real families in Virginia. More than 1200 smart, hardworking young people could lose their instate tuition if the General Assembly does not act. An estimated 300,000 immigrants would like to have access to drivers’ privilege cards. Why can’t these bills be heard?  Is dog kenneling really more important than our immigrant friends and neighbors?

-Kim Bobo, Executive Director of VICPP