Immigration at Issue in Virginia Governor’s Race

Tom Curry, MSNBC, Sept. 1

ROANOKE, Va.—Want to know what the American people think about illegal immigration? On Nov. 8, Virginia offers the nation something far more meaningful than any opinion poll—a genuine election in which nearly two million people will vote and one in which immigration will be a prominent issue.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore denounced the decision last month by the northern Virginia town of Herndon to open a taxpayer-supported hiring center for day laborers, many of whom are likely illegal immigrants.

“I just don’t think we should be using taxpayer dollars to fund illegal behavior, to promote illegal behavior,” Kilgore told MSNBC.com Tuesday. “I think it says to those illegally in this country and to those wanting to come illegally, ‘We’ll make a place for you if you violate our rules.’ And we found our greatest support on this issue is from those immigrants who came here legally.”

The debate in Virginia may grow more heated after the news Wednesday that Carlos Bustamante Medieta, a Honduran immigrant day laborer living in Annandale, Va. has been charged with murder in the stabbing death of Hak Bong Kim, a contractor who had hired him to work on a home in a Maryland suburb of Washington D.C. Police would not say whether Medieta is a legal or illegal immigrant.

On Tuesday, just hours before the news of the murder charge, Kilgore made a related point in an interview with MSNBC.com during a campaign stop in Bedford, Va.

Fear for public safety

“My other fear about the Herndon situation is that individuals are going to drive up, pick up somebody at a government-sponsored center, and assume that these individuals are safe from a public safety standpoint,” Kilgore said. “That’s not the case. They are not running background checks, they’re not even asking for identification.”

Kilgore, the former attorney general of Virginia, faces two candidates in the Nov. 8 election, Democratic Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, the former mayor of Richmond, and Republican state senator Russ Potts, who is running as an independent.

Kaine campaign spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said Kaine thinks that “obviously there are problems with illegal immigration and these problems need to be addressed. The federal government needs to be doing its job.”

Kaine “respects the right of local government (in Herndon) to deal with the economic development challenge in the way they see fit,” she added.

As for Kilgore, “he’s engaged in political grandstanding,” Skinner said.

Kilgore’s stand on illegal immigration provoked ferocious criticism on the editorial page of the Washington Post, which has a daily circulation of nearly 320,000 in Virginia.

Succumbing to temptation?

The paper’s editorial said Kilgore was “evidently grasping for an issue to excite his conservative base” and had succumbed to “the temptation to fan the flames with a naked appeal for votes.”

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Kilgore said his message to Bush is: “Let’s have clear immigration laws. Let’s force individuals to come to this country legally so that we know exactly who is here and so we have some documentation.”

During a day of campaigning in southwest Virginia Tuesday, Kilgore said “there’s a growing segment of the population that will vote on immigration issues. It made into the top ten of issues and it’s moving up every day.”

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