RICHMOND, Va., -- The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, religious leaders, and civil rights organizations called on Governor Terry McAuliffe and lawmakers to reject legislation and plans that target illegal immigrants living in the United States.
The groups met for a news conference in the House Briefing Room of the General Assembly Building in Richmond Wednesday morning.
The conference came a day after The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released details about how it plans to implement President Donald Trump’s promise to crack down on undocumented immigration. The plans grant immigration and border agents greater authority to determine who can be deported and also aims to hire 15,000 more immigration officers.
The White House rejected a notion that President Trump's plans are the beginning of "mass deportations," which was an expressed concern of the ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Claire Guthrie Gastanaga.
"Everyone who is here illegally is subject to removal at any time," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said. "But the priority that the President's laid forward and the priority that ICE is putting forward through DHS's guidance is to make sure that the people who have committed a crime or pose a threat to our public safety are the priority of their efforts."
The ACLU expressed concern the order will be used to pressure the Commonwealth into helping federal authorities enforce rules.
Several religious groups described the plans as "large-scale enforcement system."
"The policies contained in these memoranda will needlessly separate families, upend peaceful communities, endanger the lives and safety of the most vulnerable among us, breakdown the trust that currently exists between many police departments and immigrant communities, and sow great fear in those communities," Most Reverend Joe S. Vásquez, Chair of the USCCB Committee on Migration said in a statement.
They called on Gov. McAuliffe to reject two pieces of legislation they deem are detrimental to keeping families of illegal immigrants together in Virginia.
HB 1468, proposed by Del. Robert Marshall (R - Prince William County), was passed by both the House and Senate and is waiting on the governor's desk.
The bill would require Virginia jails to hold any prisoner illegally in the country and prohibit them from releasing the prisoner until federal immigration officials request them do so.
Governor McAuliffe vetoed similar legislation last year.
HB 2000, proposed by Del. Charles Poindexter (R - Franklin County), was passed by the House earlier this month and today by the Senate.
The "sanctuary cities" bill, stated that "no locality shall adopt any ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws to less than the full extent permitted by federal law."
In February, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney signed a mayoral directive stating the River City would not "consent to participate with the Immigration Customs Enforcement 287(g) agreements."
"These bills do nothing but instill fear and anxiety in our community and will affect all Virginians at large and affect us for generations to come, as they separate families and people grow up unfortunately without their parents," Michelle LaRue, Director of CASA, said.
Gov. McAuliffe intends to veto HB 2000.
"He believes state and local law enforcement have big enough jobs without being forced to do the jobs of ICE agents as well," Brian Coy, McAuliffe's spokesman, said.
In a letter sent to the Governor on Feb. 13, the ACLU of Virginia also urged McAuliffe not to sign into an Immigration Customs Enforcement 287(g) agreement.
Immigration Customs Enforcement 287(g) authorizes the director of ICE to enter into agreements with local law enforcement to train and perform immigration law functions. Currently, the only 287(g) agreement in Virginia involves the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center.
President Trump said that his policies and plans only protect America's borders and keep citizens safe.
"We will have strong borders again," President Trump said.