The Associated Press

Mass. Senate Approves Illegal Immigrant Crackdown

Boston — The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday approved a tougher measure designed to clamp down on illegal immigrants’ ability to obtain a range of state services from Medicaid to public housing.

The 28-10 vote came a day after the Senate passed a narrower proposal targeting illegal immigrants trying to get Medicaid and unemployment benefits.

The new measure – which is included in a budget bill working its way through the Senate – requires companies doing business with the state to verify that their workers are in the country legally and bars them from bidding on public contracts if they’re caught employing illegal immigrants.

It also would subject those found to have used false identification to get a job with a state contractor to a 15-year jail term or $10,000 fine. Illegal immigrants seeking state-funded public housing also would be barred from receiving those benefits ahead of anyone who is in the country legally.

Senate Republican leader Richard Tisei of Wakefield, declared it a victory for Republicans, saying it incorporates measures GOP lawmakers have long advocated.

“This sends a very strong message,” he said. “You shouldn’t be here illegally if you want to access benefits.”

Supporters of the wide-ranging proposal couldn’t say how much the various measures would end up costing taxpayers. Some suggested it would save money, but others conceded that enforcing the new rules would cost the state.

Earlier this week, Senate President Therese Murray, a Plymouth Democrat, had dismissed the Republican proposal as “smoke and mirrors.”

After the vote, Murray said she was bowing to the will of the Senate, even though she didn’t agree with everything in the proposal.

“There are parts of it that I think are unfortunate, but the members wanted it,” said Murray, who did not cast a vote.

Democratic Sen. Steve Baddour, who spoke in favor of the proposal, called it a bipartisan compromise.

Critics, including Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat, faulted backers for rushing through the measure, which was unveiled Thursday minutes before senators debated and passed it.

“Shameful,” Chang-Diaz said of the proposal after the vote.

In addition to restrictions on Medicaid, housing and unemployment benefits, the proposal would prevent the children of illegal immigrants from obtaining the same in-state tuition discount to public colleges and universities as legal Massachusetts residents. It also would bar illegal-immigrant students from getting taxpayer-funded education grants.

The tuition measure is a rebuke to Gov. Deval Patrick, who has pushed to allow those students to take advantage of the lower tuition rate, arguing that many of them were brought here by their parents as small children and have attended public schools.

The proposal establishes a toll free hot line to allow citizens to report to the state Attorney General’s office suspected violations of the part of the amendment prohibiting the hiring of illegal immigrants by contractors working for the state.

It also authorizes the state attorney general to enter into a “memorandum of understanding” with the U.S. attorney general to work collaboratively to enforce the nation’s immigration laws.

The state also would have to verify the immigration or citizen status of anyone arraigned in a criminal proceeding before a trial court in the state. The MassHealth program also would have to check participants’ immigration status through the federal Homeland Security Department.

The Massachusetts House narrowly rejected a measure last month during their budget debate that also would have required those seeking to obtain state-funded public services to verify their status.

The Senate’s action follows a poll released late Wednesday that found eight out of ten Massachusetts voters say proof of citizenship should be required for public benefits.

The Suffolk University/WHDH-TV survey released Wednesday found 84 percent of voters recommending Massachusetts lawmakers require people provide proof of citizenship to receive state benefits. Just 12 percent said no and 4 percent were undecided.

The poll surveyed 500 Massachusetts registered voters from last Thursday to Sunday and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

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