Immigrant Advocates Call The State's Budget 'A Big Win' For Gov. Baker — But Not For Immigrants

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Protesters hold signs at an immigration rally in Boston in 2018. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)
Protesters hold signs at an immigration rally in Boston in 2018. (Quincy Walters/WBUR)

After months of organizing rallies and lobbying legislators, immigration rights advocates were hopeful their efforts would lead to legislation that would protect immigrants in the state.

Just last month, a large group of protesters stormed Gov. Charlie Baker's office, demanding that he sign off on the so-called Safe Communities amendment and threatening to vote him out of office if he refused.

But the House and Senate failed to reach a consensus on the amendment, keeping it out of the compromise budget the two chambers agreed on Wednesday.

For his part, Baker always said he would veto the Senate immigration amendment if it made it to his desk. Instead, he's pushing his own legislation that would allow for some cooperation between local law enforcement and federal immigration officials.

Without the immigration protections in the budget, Baker now avoids a politically-charged veto and that, some immigrant rights advocates say, means the governor comes out on top.

"It is a big win for the governor. He put a lot of political pressure and he had said that he would veto everything," said Eva Millona, who heads the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. "But it's really disappointing for the communities and for the families who will suffer and will continue to live in fear and not report crimes."

Other advocates point to the Democratic-controlled State House and ask what happened.

Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, said it's time for immigrant rights groups to change their strategy. Going to the State House, sending emails and making calls isn't enough.

"We are also part of this state. We're also trying to mobilize immigrant communities that are now U.S. citizens. The elections are coming and [Democrats] are telling us that if we support this specific political party, things are going to change. I don't see any changes," Montes said.

The amendment that passed the Senate in May would have barred police from asking about a person's immigration status; would have ended a program that deputizes local law enforcement as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents; would have required that immigrants be notified of their due process rights; and would have ensured that the state not contribute funding to any sort of registry based on religion or citizenship.

State Sen. Jamie Eldridge, who sponsored the amendment, called this a missed opportunity.

“These are basic, due process civil rights protections...and the fact that at a time when families have been separated at the border, at a time when families are being separated in Massachusetts, that we couldn't do the bare minimum for immigrant families across Massachusetts, is deeply, deeply disappointing," he said.

Immigrant advocates say they'll push forward in the next legislative session, trying to forge a new compromise.

This segment aired on July 19, 2018.


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Shannon Dooling Investigative Reporter
Shannon Dooling was an investigative reporter at WBUR, focused on stories about immigration and criminal justice.



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