Diverse Groups Testify Against Anti-Immigrant Bill

Committee hearing packed with constituents speaking out against divisive and fiscally irresponsible Senate Bill 2061

sen keenan2/29/12 BOSTON — In the middle of a contentious State House hearing today on a bill entitled "An Act to Enhance Community Safety," Representative Carlos Henriquez  asked, "Why are we making immigration the culprit in this? What can we do that addresses these issues that doesn't make immigration the boogeyman, so to speak?"

The act, SB 2061 and its counterpart House Bill 3913, were presumably introduced in response to the tragic death of a U.S. citizen caused by a drunk driver who happened to be undocumented. But at the Joint Committee on the Judiciary hearing, human rights advocates, faith leaders, immigration experts and others spoke about how the proposed legislation scapegoats immigrants and ignores the real threats to public safety, namely, drunk driving and alcohol abuse.

Shannon Erwin, State Policy Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) noted in her testimony, "Evidence-based research indicates that immigrants are LESS likely to commit crime than the native-born. Yet the majority of this bill’s provisions, and some of the sponsors’ remarks made during a press conference in September 2011, indicate that this bill is designed to make Massachusetts a more difficult place for immigrants to reside."

Erwin testified that drunk driving cases in Massachusetts have been shown to have an unusually high acquittal rate, which this bill does nothing to address. Instead, as Michael Sheetz, Board Chair the Anti-Defamation League New England noted, the bill "plays into stereotypical views of immigrants and acts to demonize immigrant communities."

Many of the bill's harsh and wasteful provisions have no bearing on public safety, including a provision that codifies into law the policy baring undocumented immigrant students in Massachusetts from paying in-state college tuition rates, and another that forces the Attorney General's Office to investigate even unfounded allegations against unauthorized workers. Other provisions threaten the state's economic recovery by imposing burdensome regulations on small businesses and redundant procedures on local police forces. And many would jeopardize the safety of at-risk communities, like domestic violence victims, by essentially deputizing local police as federal immigration agents.

"The lessons from other states should give us serious pause," said Mary R. Lauby, the Executive Director of Jane Doe Inc, outside the hearing.  "The negative and dangerous impact of this proposed legislation on victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking is nothing that we can ignore. By turning those who are charged with protecting victims into federal immigration law enforcers, immigrant victims and witnesses of domestic and sexual violence will be even more afraid to come forward and report these crimes. The result will further isolate and endanger victims and their children and undermines the justice system’s ability to arrest and prosecute batterers, rapists, and traffickers."

Eva Millona, Executive Director of MIRA, noted,  “This bill’s passage would invite the same dire consequences we are now seeing in Arizona and Alabama after the passage of their respective anti-immigrant bills, which studies show cost billions in lost economic productivity. We urge the committee to oppose its passage, and to instead focus on fiscally prudent policies that better integrate the foreign-born into the economic and social fabric of the Commonwealth."

In an effort to stop SB 2061 the MIRA Coalition delivered hundreds of postcards to legislators from their direct constituents opposing the bill.  To become a part of this effort, please sign the statewide online petition that is still available at http://act.reformimmigrationforamerica.org/letter/save_massachusetts_families/.