Illegal Immigration Addressed In Senate Budget
By: Michael C. Bailey
The House last month balked at a chance to crack down on illegal immigrants attempting to collect state benefits, but the Senate was not so timid.
During the second day of its debate on its Fiscal Year 2011 spending plan, the Senate voted 28 to 10 in support of the amendment, which focuses not only on illegal immigrants themselves, but on employers who hire undocumented immigrants.
Among the key provisions of the amendment:
- Immigrants must verify their status as legal immigrants when applying for MassHealth benefits
- Any immigrants appearing in court as a defendant must verify their status as a legal immigrant
- Illegal immigrants living in Massachusetts may not receive discounted tuition to state colleges and universities offered to legal residents
- Legal immigrants must be given priority for public housing over illegal immigrants
- All businesses that receive state contracts must verify that all their employees are legal US citizens; any violations would bar a non-compliant company from bidding on state contracts
- The state would establish a toll-free hotline for anyone to report a business that employs illegal immigrants
- The creation of new penalties for falsifying a state driver’s license or state ID
A less stringent version of this amendment was passed last Wednesday, but replaced with the tougher amendment.
“I think most taxpayers agree that the Commonwealth should provide benefits and financial assistance to those who are citizens or legal residents,” Senate President Therese M. Murray (D – Plymouth) said. Sen. Murray did not vote on the bill, as is her practice; she regularly does not vote on bill to maintain a sense of impartiality.
“I believe that immigration laws in this country are severely broken and far too complex for simple solutions by individual states,” State Senator Robert A. O’Leary (D – Barnstable) said. “But I do not believe that illegal immigrants should be able to take advantage of benefits funded by American citizens.”
Sen. O’Leary, who voted for the amendment, said that as a grandson of immigrants “I understand the challenges faced by new arrivals to this country and the value they add to the American way of life. But this is also a nation of laws…we are obligated to enforce the laws that are on the books.”
The vote immediately became fodder for candidates for elected office, particularly in the increasingly heated gubernatorial race.
“We must not allow the immigrant community to be harassed and demonized in Massachusetts. To do so would endanger us all,” Dr. Jill E. Stein, Green-Rainbow Party candidate for governor said at a weekend rally. “As economic insecurity has risen, here and around the country, we have seen political leaders use the immigrant community as a scapegoat, trying to deflect blame from our failing economy and failing political leadership. This is standard fare for demagogues and has no place in Massachusetts.”
“This misguided legislation should be stopped in the House or vetoed by the governor,” Dr. Stein said.
“The Senate took a strong step forward today in ensuring that taxpayer money is spent on legal residents seeking state services and should be applauded for listening to the residents here who have long called for serious action on illegal immigration,” Republican candidate Charles D. Baker Jr. said. “There is more work to be done, and I urge Deval Patrick to support this bipartisan measure and recognize the severity of continuing the status quo.”
Gov. Patrick has not indicated whether he would support such an initiative, but has not been supportive of immigration crackdown efforts in the past.
Timothy P. Cahill, unenrolled candidate for governor, did not issue any statements on the vote.
The proposal could be further amended or removed entirely as a joint conference committee works on a final budget package. Whatever survives, if anything, would then be subject to a straight up-or-down vote before the full Legislature.
State Representative Jeffrey D. Perry (R – Sandwich) filed a similar amendment for the House FY11 budget, but it was rejected. His somewhat broader version would have required anyone age 18 or older applying for any public state benefits to be verified as a legal immigrants through the federal “Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlement” (SAVE) system.
Minors would have been exempt from this verification process.
The Senate Committee on Ways and Means’ original $27.99 billion spending plan grew slightly, to $28.4 billion, by the time the Senate approved it in a 32 to six vote cast around 2:35 AM last Friday.
The Senate budget is about $53 million more than the House plan and $330 million less than Gov. Patrick’s proposed budget.
As in the House plan, the Senate budget maintained a $159 million reduction to local aid. Barnstable, Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Sandwich would lose a total of $1.67 million in Chapter 70 state education funding and approximately $243,000 in local aid.
The five towns could recoup just over $500,000 in ARRA funding, but that money is not guaranteed. An amendment proposing a four percent across-the-board budget cut to boost local aid levels was rejected.
Despite several attempts by Senators through the amendment process, the Senate provided only $5 million for the Quinn Bill program, which provides tuition reimbursement and pay bonus incentives to police officers who pursue a degree in law enforcement or criminal justice.
The Senate also adopted new limits on Quinn Bill benefits: any officer who joined a municipal police department after July 1, 2009, or any active police officer who had not enrolled in a qualifying college program by October 1, 2009, would not be eligible to apply for Quinn Bill benefits.
A related proposal in the budget’s outside sections would form a “Special Commission on Police Career Incentives” to study the Quinn Bill to determine whether the program has had the desired impact on improving the professionalism of Massachusetts police officers, and whether the program should continue.
Amendments filed by Sen. O’Leary to address medical malpractice reform were both shot down. One of the amendments called for a mandatory six-month cooling-off period between a medical error or negative outcome and the filing of a malpractice lawsuit, the other would have established a formal process through which doctors could apologize for errors or negative outcomes without fear that it could later be used as evidence against him in a malpractice lawsuit.
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