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Virginia’s first gubernatorial debate this year happened over the weekend, and featured Democrat Ralph Northam against Republican Ed Gillespie. Among the variety of issues they discussed were in-state tuition for Dreamers and laws for so-called “sanctuary cities”.
Ralph Northam is a doctor, Army vet, former Virginia state senator, and current Lieutenant Governor for Virginia. Gillespie is a former chair of the Republican National Committee, a Washington lobbyist, and an aide during the George Bush administration. During the GOP gubernatorial primary, Gillespie faced a strong challenge from Corey Stewart, one of the most ardent anti-immigrant voices in Virginia. Gillespie kept moving further to the extremes to cater to the GOP base — and still ended up barely defeating Stewart. Gillespie long ago shed any claim to being a “moderate” Republican — and that was evident during the debate.
On Dreamers and in-state tuition, Northam pointed out that young immigrants who have grown up and gone to school in the US should have access to a college education. Gillespie, on the other hand, spoke about scarce tax dollars and scarce university slots that should go to Virginia residents. As he said:
I know that people, young people who are here by virtue of a decision their parents made — they’re here for no fault of their own. But we have scarce tax dollars, and we have a hard enough time getting people who are here legally and are citizens of the commonwealth of Virginia access to affordable college education.
To be clear, this is an extreme position. Virginia Dreamers have had access to in-state tuition since 2014, allowing some 8,000 young immigrants to have a better shot at the American Dream. In-state tuition doesn’t allow Dreamers to apply for state-based or financial federal aid; it doesn’t take away school slots from anyone else. It simply allows Dreamers who have already earned their place at a Virginia college or university to pay the in-state rate as opposed to out-of-state. Virginia Dreamers have grown up in the state and gone to Virginia high schools; why would the state want to impede their access to higher education and constrain their ability to contribute to their adopted state and country?
Yet Gillespie is implying that he might like to do away with this policy. It seems Northam was correct when he criticized Gillespie for not standing up against right-wing policies, including mass deportation and repealing the Affordable Care Act: “You’ve really been missing in action on all these issues,” Northam said.
Another immigration issue briefly mentioned during the debate involved so-called “sanctuary cities”, which Gillespie wants to ban — even though such cities are safer for both immigrants and non-immigrants alike. But, Gillespie is again toeing the hard-core GOP line without any regard to actual policy implications.
One thing is clear: the immigration issue will play a role in the Virginia elections again this fall. In the last race for Governor back in 2013, Latino Decisions election-eve polling found that Latino and Asian voters played a key role in the election of Terry McAuliffe.