Governor Patrick Talks Sense on Immigration

This is the kind of pragmatic approach to problem solving that helped Deval Patrick triumph over the Massachusetts Democratic machine on his first election and see off Republican dream candidate Charlie Baker walking away in his second. In his recent speech at Tufts for the Hillel Moral Voices lecture:

The solution for this population seems to me to involve some form of recognition for those who are here and contributing, some pathway to citizenship that involves fines, learning English, paying taxes and the like, but that is about bringing people out of the shadows and into civic, social and economic daylight.  We have done this before in America.  We could do it again.  But some are unable to resist the political opportunity to appear “tough” on illegal immigration, such as in states like Arizona and Alabama where legislatures have passed restrictive laws that punish illegal immigrants, ostensibly because the federal government has not done enough.  In fact what such states are doing is establishing a permanent underclass and an environment of fear. …

People ask “Governor, don’t you understand that illegal means illegal?”  As a lawyer and a citizen, I get that overstaying a visa or entering without permission is illegal.  But I also know that it is a federal misdemeanor.  Harsh penalties for immigration violations, like separating families (in some cases whose minor children are themselves citizens), are the equivalent, in my view, of demanding the death penalty for a speeding ticket.  We can be serious about the legal violation without being absurd.

It’s also true that there are practical concerns about a policy of rounding people up and expelling them.  Business leaders and investors are among the first to advocate for accommodations for foreign workers – because they appreciate the need for world-class talent and because they know that without immigrants our economy would collapse.  I heard a report of a farmer on the radio the other day who put it very simply, either import the labor or import the food.  They get it, too.

I also refuse to ignore the human impact of our decisions, or to scapegoat people who are vulnerable.  Whether they have a valid visa or not, we are talking about human lives just like yours and mine.  If they are a victim of crime, they deserve the protection of the law.  If they are sick, they deserve decent health care.  Their children, most of whom were brought here through no choice of their own and often know no place other than this place, deserve an education and an opportunity to reach their potential.  I will not dehumanize 11 million people to secure political points.

Level-headed practical problem-solving approaches like this are one reason Massachusetts is one of the most prosperous states in the nation.

With respect to the “Secure Communities” program His Excellency the Governor had this to say:

A Bush-era policy that has survived into the Obama administration illustrates the point.  “Secure Communities” is a program that requires the FBI to share fingerprint information with ICE about criminals who are undocumented.  The objective is to target for deportation people who are violent offenders through better sharing of information among federal agencies.  It is a wise policy and serves laudable public safety interests.  It takes effect in 2013, though nothing prevents the agencies from sharing information now and frequently they do.  States were offered the opportunity to sign a memorandum of understanding with the federal government to “join” the Secure Communities program.  Now what does that mean?  In reality, nothing. Not one thing, because the program is about the sharing of information by one federal agency with another.  And the Federal Government does not need any state’s permission to do that. The real purpose of the MOU was to give governors the political opportunity to say they we are cracking down on illegal immigrants.

I declined to sign the MOU.  Many in law enforcement had been building relationships in immigrant communities to fight crime and expressed concern to me that signing the MOU would compromise those efforts.  I was also concerned about racial or ethnic profiling by police who felt authorized to stop anyone and question anyone who looked or sounded foreign.  Since Massachusetts was already sending all fingerprints to the federal government, and had been doing so for years, we gained nothing of practical value from signing the MOU.  The downside was that we would compromise public safety and put a lot of people in needless fear.

For that I have been called everything but a child of God!


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3 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Incarcerating anyone separates families.

    So I guess the penalty for many crimes is like the death penalty for speeding tickets.

    • How many speeders are jailed?

      Overstaying a visa is like a speeding ticket. Committing armed robbery is like, well, committing armed robbery and different from getting a speeding ticket.

      Nobody is jailed for speeding. People are jailed for armed robbery. Nobody should be jailed for speeding. People convicted of armed robbery should be jailed. People who overstay a visa should not be separated from their family.

      I’m not sure why (other than bigotry, xenophobia, and racism) any of this is controversial — especially in Massachusetts.

  2. States can set requirements for receiving state services and benefits...

    …and being a citizen or legal resident is certainly a legitimate requirement to set. However, it is the federal government’s job, and not the several states’ to actively legislate and enforce immigration policy. The Constitution clearly makes this federal prerogative and as such laws as Arizona’s SB1070 is to me at least obviously unconstitutional. Any reform should look at easing the methods of legal immigration so illegal immigration is essentially rendered a moot point.

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Fri 28 Apr 2:33 AM