Virginia’s House Speaker May End Up Governor—Why That Would Be Bad for Immigrants

Virginia Speaker of the House Kirk Cox.

Virginia Speaker of the House Kirk Cox. Kirk Cox/Facebook

Virginia Speaker of the House Kirk Cox could end up Virginia’s next governor, but that won’t be good for undocumented immigrants.

Since 2006, the legislator has voted for a number of bills limiting access to higher education and employment to undocumented immigrants. In 2012, he co-sponsored efforts to require law enforcement to ask people arrested if they are in the United States legally. In 2017 and 2018, he supported legislation banning sanctuary cities in the state of Virginia.

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Over the past couple of days, a series of scandals has placed the political future of Virginia’s Democratic leadership in doubt. Governor Ralph Northam is facing questions over wearing blackface during his time in medical school. His lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, has been accused of sexual assault; his accuser, Vanessa Tyson came out on Wednesday with a statement detailing the allegations. The second-in-line attorney general, Mark Herring, admitted Wednesday morning that he had also used blackface in college and resigned as co-chairman of the Democratic Attorneys General Association.

While Cox had previously hung back from the ongoing controversy, by Wednesday afternoon, he too had made a statement. While he stated that the House “will continue our work on the budget and the hundreds of bills remaining,” he wrote that the attorney general “should adhere to the standard he has set for others or he loses credibility.” The attorney general had called for Northam to step aside after Northam’s last public appearance.

Cox’s ascension into the governorship would give Republicans control over the Virginian government, allowing them to move forward with a number of Republican agenda items, including anti-immigration policies.

As late as Tuesday, it was unclear whether Cox would permit House Bill 343 to come to the floor. The bill would grant in-state tuition to any student who attended a Virginia high school and who had at least one legal guardian pay taxes, whether or not the student was undocumented. Between 2006 and 2007, Cox voted for three bills that would of denied in-state tuition to undocumented students, unless the money was also offered to out-of-state U.S. citizens and nationals. Cox also voted for bills preventing undocumented students from enrolling in public Virginia colleges and universities in 2006 and 2011.

In 2012, Cox co-sponsored legislation that would of required law enforcement to “inquire as to whether” arrestees are “legally present in the United States.” Authorities would have been required under the law to inform judicial officers if they felt someone was undocumented. In 2017 and 2018, Cox voted in favor of legislation that provided cities from adopting any “ordinance, procedure, or policy that restricts the enforcement of federal immigration laws.” In vetoing the bill in 2017, former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, wrote that “this legislation does nothing more than send a hostile message to immigrant communities across the Commonwealth.”

However, Democrats are at the end of the line when it comes to the line of succession. Even if Kirk Cox weren’t to become governor, the Republican controlled House of Delegates would choose the successor.

Virginia’s House Speaker May End Up Governor—Why That Would Be Bad for Immigrants