Progressive Voice: Arlington Values in Richmond

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. It is written by a rotating group of contributors. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

Mike LiebermanLast year, Arlington Democrats campaigned for statewide and House of Delegates candidates on a message of carrying Arlington’s values to Richmond. During the past two weeks, these efforts have borne fruit, with major progressive actions taken by our governor and attorney general, both of whom were elected with strong support from Arlington voters.

Today, I focus on Attorney General Mark Herring’s announcement last month that instantly provided access to higher education for 8,000 Virginia residents who have successfully completed high school or its equivalent and who were brought to the United States as children by parents who were undocumented immigrants.

These students, called Dreamers (named after the DREAM Act), can now qualify for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities. With his two-page letter, Mr. Herring broke through a logjam in the General Assembly that had seemingly stalled progress indefinitely on the Virginia Dreamers’ access to higher education in the state where they grew up and achieved K-12 academic success.

From a policy perspective, Mr. Herring’s decision is beyond common sense. Dreamers are children whose status as undocumented immigrants was most often not a choice of their making. Indeed, in many cases, these children came to the United States as babies. Many may not even know the circumstances of their arrival in the United States. Yet they have been successful students and contributed to the vibrancy of our communities in many ways.

Dreamers have completed their education at Virginia high schools, in many cases with honors. They have maintained a clean record. They want to become even more productive members of society by going to college and getting a degree. Put simply, these are the type of productive Virginians that we want and need in our communities.

By gaining admission to Virginia’s institutions of higher education, they will not only enrich those colleges and universities through their hard work and desire to succeed, but they will also have the opportunity to remain in our Commonwealth and positively contribute to our economy and workforce — following the path of hard working immigrants seen throughout the American experience.

Long before Attorney General Herring’s action, Arlington led the way as a champion for Virginia Dreamers.

School Board Member Emma Violand-Sanchez is the chair of Arlington’s Dream Project, dedicated to encouraging and supporting promising immigrant youth in their pursuit of higher education through mentoring, scholarships, advocacy, and community outreach.

Our Del. Alfonso Lopez and state Sen. Adam Ebbin have been patrons and champions of the DREAM Act as General Assembly members. Our County Board, led on this issue by Walter Tejada, has made passage of the DREAM Act a legislative priority for Arlington.

I am proud to live in a community that not only speaks about its values of inclusion and diversity, but takes steps to translate them into action.

Republicans in the General Assembly, by contrast — and indeed, some right here in our community — have decried Attorney General Herring’s decision as overreaching.

But those same voices stood conspicuously silent when Mr. Herring’s predecessor, Ken Cuccinelli, exercised his powers to take Virginia into far more extreme and indefensible policy areas such as his instruction to Virginia colleges and universities that sexual orientation could not be protected under the schools’ non-discrimination policies.

Fortunately, Arlington progressives stood against Attorney General Cuccinelli then and with Attorney General Herring now. On both counts, we have been on the right side of history.

So let me add my voice to those who say “Good for you, Attorney General Herring.”  Your action reflects the very values that earned you my vote last fall.  And we as Arlingtonians, Virginians, and Americans are stronger for it.

Mike Lieberman is the Immediate Past Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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