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VA GOP Senate candidates split on feds strong-arming states over sanctuary cities

Conservative Review

Candidates for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Virginia clashed in a debate Saturday that highlighted disagreement among conservatives on how best to crack down on sanctuary cities.

State Delegate Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, faced Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart, who unsuccessfully ran for governor last year, in a head-to-head debate held at the Virginia Tea Party's annual convention in Richmond. On cutting taxes, cutting spending, and building a border wall to secure the southern border, both candidates agreed.

But on the question, "Should the federal government step in toward states who openly disregard federal laws, such as sanctuary cities?" there was disagreement.

Freitas answered first, touting his record on voting for legislation to prevent sanctuary city policies in Virginia. He noted that the Democratic governor of Virginia has vetoed anti-sanctuary city legislation sent to him by the Republican majority. On the question of federal law, Freitas described himself as a "federalist" and stated his belief that states that permit sanctuary cities policies ought to be defunded by Congress.

"It makes no sense for the federal government to fund a bunch of welfare programs when a state allows a bunch of illegal aliens or people that are not qualified for those programs to then use that money," Freitas said. "So there is a mechanism for punishment."

He disapproved of using the power of the federal government to co-opt state law enforcement to enforce federal laws.

“No, the federal government does not have a right to come in and tell a state agency what they have to do," Freitas said, urging the audience to consider what Democratic administrations would do with that power.

Stewart said the federal government ought to directly intervene when cities adopt sanctuary city policies.

"Folks, if I violate federal law, suppose I violate federal civil rights law ... I get prosecuted as a public official," Stewart said. "Why is it any different for our federal immigration laws?"

"This is what I'm proposing: Prosecute any local or state official who declares himself a sanctuary city."

Freitas responded, saying he was "shocked" by Stewart's position.

“If we ever, God forbid, had a Hillary Clinton presidency, and they passed federal gun bans ... now when a sheriff ignores that law and refuses to enforce it, the federal government is going to go in and put that person in jail,” he warned.

There are five declared candidates for the Republican nomination, but only Freitas and Stewart participated in Saturday's debate. The primary election is on June 12. The Republican nominee will challenge Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., in November.

Watch the full debate:

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Freitas represented "Culberson." 

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