GOP Hardliner, Sen. Amanda Chase Wrestles with Immigration as the Face of Her District Changes
A Republican state senator from Chesterfield made an unexpected move two weeks ago in the General Assembly. Staunch conservative Amanda Chase stepped out of line with her Republican colleagues on an immigration bill -- legislation that was otherwise dead on arrival.
Unlike most of her Republican colleagues, Chase’s relationship with illegal immigration is complicated. She was the deciding vote to advance in-state college tuition for DACA recipients two weeks ago. DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood arrivals, protects some young people brought to the country illegally as children from deportation.
“They simply want in-state tuition I personally don’t have a problem with that,” Chase said. “However, if it’s a situation where someone has been given the opportunity to be here legally and they have not taken that option, then I go back to the law on those situations.”
Chase’s district encompasses most of Chesterfield County, which according to demographic researchers at the University of Virginia, has a Hispanic population that’s growing faster than the Hispanic population statewide.
Over the next decade, it’s expected to double from about 50,000 in 2020 to more than 90,000 in 2030.
Chase said she’s been working with a couple of colleagues across the aisle to find common ground on immigration issues.
But her voting record shows she hasn’t completely made up her mind.
A Democratic effort to give driver privilege cards to some undocumented immigrants failed along party lines when it came up in committee last week. Chase voted “no,” with reservations.
“A lot of improvements have been made in this bill. I’m still not at a point where I am comfortable supporting it completely,” she told the committee.
But Chase broke ranks to support the in-state tuition bill for DACA recipients.
Senator Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg) chairs the committee where it was heard and he voted against that bill.
“People can vote however they want to vote," Newman said. “I disagree with it.”
Newman said fixing the immigration system isn’t the responsibility of state government, but should fall on Congress.
“We need to find a way for legal citizenship and they just seem to be unable and unwilling to do it,” Newman said.
Chase agrees. And, she said there are many reasons people struggle to become legal US citizens -- like the cost. The application alone is over $700 and there are thousands of dollars in legal fees.
“They’re trying to do the right thing,” Chase said. “They’re trying to become citizens of the United States and through no fault of their own they’ve hit a wall.”
Chase made headlines earlier this session when she carried a handgun openly on the Senate floor and in committee. (Photo: Craig Carper/WCVE)
A nuanced approach
Chase rode into elected office on a wave of tea party support in 2015. She even has a weekly radio show where she talks to her base about her position on conservative issues.
Those who back her do so because of her unwavering support for conservative, party-line issues like gun rights said Rich Meagher, associate political science professor at Randolph-Macon College.
“Normally from the outside, we would say, well of course, if she’s a conservative from a conservative district, she and everybody in her district are going to be real hardliners on immigration,” Meagher said. “But I think partially, her nuanced approach might be reflecting some of the things she’s hearing in her district from people.”
Chase said she’s friends with pastors in Chesterfield who have undocumented immigrants in their congregations. And her sister-in-law is an immigration attorney.
Meagher said Chase’s position is also a demonstration of where the immigration issue is right now nationally.
“How much do national ideology, partisanship, overwhelm the kinds of local concerns that state officials often have to deal with?”
Earlier this month, immigrant rights advocates celebrated when the in-state tuition bill advanced in Virginia's legislature. But committee chairman, Sen. Steve Newman said it will be heard again in the same committee this Thursday.
Chase may have changed her mind.