Immigrants to push Mass. lawmakers to support them
BOSTON—Hundreds of immigrants and their supporters are preparing to gather at the Massachusetts State House to press lawmakers on issues important to foreign-born residents as legislators craft proposals for the budget for the financial year that begins in July.
More than 500 people are expected at the Gardner Auditorium on Monday to ask state lawmakers to reject anti-immigration bills and amendments that they say would divide communities, breed mistrust of police and harm Massachusetts' economic recovery, said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. The group organized the event, which it is calling Immigrant Day.
Scheduled to speak are consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren and her rival for the Democratic party nomination for U.S. Senate, Marisa DeFranco. Republican Sen. Scott Brown did not immediately respond to an invitation.
Massachusetts is among the nation's top destinations for immigrants, ranking seventh among states hosting legal permanent residents, according to the federal Department of Homeland Security.
Immigrants, refugees and those pushing to help them integrate into American society are concerned that lawmakers might be tempted to use budget debate votes to rush through laws that might undermine the interests of foreign-born residents.
That includes a mandate that more state employers use the E-Verify federal online database to check the employment eligibility of new hires as well as forcing communities to participate in a federal immigration enforcement program, Secure Communities, which uses fingerprints collected in local jails to identify illegal immigrants who have been arrested, Millona said.
"E-Verify is an electronic system which imposes heavy costs on small businesses even as it all too frequently misidentifies authorized workers as unauthorized," she said.
The Secure Communities program "has ensnared and deported many immigrants with no criminal history -- including domestic violence victims -- and torn apart families through deportation of parents or other family members," Millona said. "The program also severely damages police relations with immigrant communities, who are essential for community policing efforts."
Immigrant Day participants are also seeking adequate funding for such programs as the Citizenship for New Americans Program. It assists eligible immigrants in naturalizing.
They also want lawmakers to fund assistance services that meet the needs of immigrant survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault as well as adult basic education and English language training for non-native speakers.
"Immigrants and refugees are eager to integrate into the fabric of our society, they want to learn English, to become American citizens and to live in safety," Millona said ahead of the gathering. "These programs are essential for the integration of immigrants and strengthening of our communities."
Immigrants and their supporters, however, are concerned that foreign-born residents could be targeted again by lawmakers looking to plug a budget gap that House Speaker Robert DeLeo estimates to run between $500 million and $1 billion in the next fiscal year.
That concern stems from experience in 2009 when state lawmakers voted to cut funding for low-income immigrants enrolled in Commonwealth Care because the federal government does not reimburse states for dental, hospice, skilled-nursing care and other costs incurred by foreign-born residents living in the country for less than five years. The immigrants were transferred to another state program that offered limited coverage, while thousands of others were put on a waiting list. The action, intended to help plug a $1.9 billion budget deficit, marked the first significant rollback to the health care law that was signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, in 2006.
The Supreme Judicial Court, however, ruled unanimously in January that preventing immigrants from enrolling in Commonwealth Care was unconstitutional because it violated their rights to equal protection under the Massachusetts Constitution.