January 7, 2021, Falls Church, VA – The largest immigrant advocacy organization in the Mid-Atlantic CASA announces its policy agenda for Virginia’s 2021 legislative session. With 100,000 lifetime members, the organization kicks off its advocacy strategy which will educate lawmakers and advocate for bills that uphold immigrants and working families.

“COVID-19 has compounded the urgency that immigrant and working families face, making this legislative session more important than before,” said Luis Aguilar, CASA’s Virginia Director. “We will fight for immigrants to stay in the forefront in Richmond, just like immigrants have been serving in the frontlines throughout the pandemic.”

Carlos P. in Fairfax contracted COVID-19: “My housemates and I have lived together for five years, but 2020 was the first time that we ever fell behind on rent payments. All of us caught COVID-19, meaning none of us could get to work. For the first time, we couldn’t pay our bills. We tried to work with the landlord but they didn’t come through on our agreement since only one of us was listed on the lease agreement – the rest of us got evicted from the apartment. It didn’t matter that we had paid for years everything on time. My story is one that many others are suffering through right now. That’s why I fight for our community and for rent relief!” 

CASA 2021 Virginia Legislative Priorities

Evictions Moratorium: The state eviction moratorium ended on December 31, 2020. The federal eviction moratorium will end on January 31, 2021. After this, a landlord could proceed with an eviction if the tenant is denied aid, the state’s relief program runs out of funds, or it takes the state longer than 45 days to make a payment. This approach is not ideal and only postpones evictions. We need to prevent mass evictions, especially as COVID-19 cases are rapidly rising again.

Identification for All: An identification card is invaluable as it provides access to beneficial services and grants security. For too long, unauthorized immigrants residing in Virginia had no way of obtaining a state-issued identification card. However, starting this year, many will gain it through a driving privilege card. However, many may not be eligible or have no interest in being on the road. Extending the opportunity to obtain a non-driver identification card would provide an alternative and reach many more.

Limit Agency Data Sharing with ICE: DMV offices expect to receive a higher number of applicants for a driving privilege card. While this was a victory for the immigrant community, we want to ensure this is a safe process. Therefore, additional regulations for accessing the DMV databases are necessary to protect consumer information. Traditionally, ICE obtains DMV data through third parties or law enforcement databases. Prohibiting the release and sharing of privileged information for civil immigration purposes unless they present a criminal warrant or court order is crucial.

Expanding Healthcare Coverage: There continue to be large health disparities among the immigrant community that often lead to poor health outcomes and high mortality and morbidity. Extending the FAMIS program’s prenatal coverage to all women, regardless of immigration status, would mitigate the disproportionate maternal mortality rates we are experiencing. Increasing the age under one is covered by the FAMIS program from 19 years to 21 years would extend healthcare coverage and services to authorized children. 

Paid Sick Days: The COVID-19 pandemic continues in our communities. Following the holidays, we have seen a surge in cases and a rise in hospitalizations. Extending paid sick leave to all employees in Virginia, especially to our essential workers, is crucial in our efforts to reduce the spread of highly contagious illness in the workplaces, homes, and the greater community.

End Private Detention: Prohibit new and renewed contracts for privatized incarceration facilities and abolish existing ones.

Affordable and Equitable Housing: Prohibit discriminatory housing practices (HB 7/SB97), expand affordable housing options, including workforce housing, and place additional barriers to limit and prevent unlawful evictions.

Equitable Education: Improve disciplinary practices (HB 109), limit standardized testing (HB 1277), and expand college readiness opportunities and resources to school districts that disproportionately have higher rates of suspension, expulsion, dropout, and lower performance scores. Expand financial aid and tuition assistance to higher education intuitions to all students regardless of immigration status. Pass funding to reinstate the G3 program that would make tuition-free community college available to low- and middle-income students who pursue high-demand careers. 

Environmental Justice and Protections: Improve transportation services, assist in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, and protect communities’ water and air quality.

Improving Democracy: Advocate for same-day and automatic voter registration, and favoring the popular vote over the electoral college.