RICHMOND, Va. (March 28, 2017) – Yesterday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill that would have prohibited so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to cooperate with enforcement of some federal immigration laws.

A coalition of 10 Republican delegates sponsored House Bill 2000 (HB2000). The legislation would have prohibited any local government from implementing sanctuary city policies.

“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.”

After it passed the House 63-33 on Feb. 7, the Senate Local Government Committee voted 6-6 on the measure, apparently killing the bill. But one senator was absent for the vote. After approving a motion to reconsider, the committee passed HB2000 7-6 after amending it to remove the words “to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.” from the end of the enacting clause. The bill ultimately passed the Senate 21-19. After the House concurred with the Senate amendment by a 65-34 vote, SB2000 went to the governor’s desk.

In his veto message, McAuliffe called the measure “an unnecessary and divisive requirement upon localities regarding the enforcement of federal immigration laws,” emphasizing the importance of local decision-making.

“Localities have the right to determine whether or not to expend the resources and voluntarily enter into an agreement with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Police divisions across the Commonwealth have a long tradition of engaging in community policing strategies, and many have determined that it is more important to develop a relationship with immigrant communities in order to keep all of those who live within the locality safe.”


Some U.S. cities, and the state of California, have refused to participate in a narrow segment of federal immigration enforcement. In all of these situations, government and law enforcement agencies in these cities don’t actively stop ICE from enforcing immigration laws. However, in a narrow sense, they simply don’t provide any support or assistance to federal agents. These cities leave it to the federal government to enforce federal law.

Non-cooperation with federal enforcement rests on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. Simply put, the federal government cannot force states or their political subdivisions to help implement or enforce any federal act or regulatory program.

It would appear that Pres. Trump recognizes this as well. In his Jan. 25 Executive Order on “sanctuary jurisdictions,” he acknowledges that his policy of having state and local agents act as interior federal immigration enforcement will be done “with the consent of State or local officials.”

HB2000 would have been a constitutional way to force cities in Virginia to help enforce immigration laws. The federal government cannot do it. But if a state decides it wants to spend its time, money and resources assisting the federal government, they can certainly make that choice.


The Virginia legislature will have an opportunity to override the Governor’s veto with a 2/3 vote in each chamber. The House would need 67 votes of 100 members and the Senate would need 34 votes out of 50.

Mike Maharrey

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