Virginia’s Cuccinelli Rules It’s OK For Police To Check Immigration Status

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) issued an official opinion that Virginia police officers can follow in Arizona’s footsteps and ask for immigration status on routine stops.

The opinion comes in the form of a letter sent on Friday to state Delegate Bob Marshall, a Northern Virginia Republican who is among the legislature’s most conservative members. Marshall has long sought stricter measures to ensure illegal immigrants receive no taxpayer-funded services.Marshall asked Cuccinelli, who took office this January as the state’s top law enforcement official, if Virginia police have the same authority to ask about people’s immigration status as Arizona officers do under the state’s new law. Marshall also asked if that authority extends to state park personnel and local zoning officials, likely because of his opposition to day laborer pickup spots that can be targeting for zoning violations.

Cuccinelli, who also made targeting illegal immigration one of his top priorities as a state senator, responded Friday in a letter which concluded:

It is my opinion that Virginia law enforcement officers, including conservation officers, may, like Arizona police officers, inquire into the immigration status of persons stopped or arrested; however, persons tasked with enforcing zoning laws lack the authority to investigate criminal violations of the law, including criminal violations of the immigration laws of the United States.

Cuccinelli’s letter, which you can read in full here, details the Arizona law and existing Virginia statutes. Already Cuccinelli has filed a friend of the court brief to stand with Arizona in its battle with the federal government.

“So long as the officers have the requisite level of suspicion to believe that a violation of the law has occurred, the officers may detain and briefly question a person they suspect has committed a federal crime. Furthermore, the United States Supreme Court has found that so long as the questioning does not prolong a lawful detention, police may ask questions about immigration status,” he wrote in the letter.

The Washington Post details the fierce opposition to Cuccinelli’s stance, with immigration reform advocates saying he’s seeking to serve “his personal political agenda rather than objectively interpret the law.”

From the Post‘s story:

A 2008 Virginia law requires that law enforcement check the immigration status of anyone taken into custody on suspicion of having committed a separate crime. Cuccinelli’s opinion could expand such inquiries to those who have been legally stopped by law enforcement, for instance those pulled over for a traffic violation or at a police checkpoint.

In Virginia, official opinions of the attorney general are considered law unless a judge disagrees with the legal analysis after an opinion has been challenged in court.

It’s not a surprise he’s tough on illegal immigrants, given his positions as a state lawmaker. Consider what he told me five years ago. From that story:

Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II said he supports the “very broad exclusion” of illegals.

“We should take away every government-funded incentive for people to come here illegally,” the Fairfax County Republican said.

Cuccinelli also has become a national figure for his lawsuit challenging health care reform, an issue making headlines today as a judge ruled the case can move forward.

This weekend, Cuccinelli was the lead story in the Washington Post magazine. The profile featured several photos of his family and described how he got into the business to begin with. Definitely worth a read.