Governor's Final Budget Curbs Targeting of Undocumented Immigrants

July 9, 2012 BOSTON — Four provisions targeted at the undocumented immigrant population of Massachusetts were included in the final budget sent to Governor Patrick. These included increased penalties for infractions related to driving without a license and distributing false I.D.s, and the creation of a residency check for vehicle registration. Yesterday, the governor signed the final budget, allowing three increased-penalty measures to stand and amending the registration provision.

In explaining his amendment to the legislature, Governor Patrick wrote, "It is hard to understand how a non-resident simply owning a vehicle in Massachusetts jeopardizes the public’s safety.  Indeed, it serves the public’s safety interests to know, through registration, the name and whereabouts of the owner of every vehicle on the Commonwealth’s roads.  Foreign students with an international license or seasonal residents who wish to register a vehicle in Massachusetts could be swept up in section 92, as written.  In this sense, the provision is overbroad."

Commenting on the legislative intent, the governor also noted, "I will not accept efforts to compel state authorities to enforce federal immigration rules. The recent ruling of the United States Supreme Court, striking down most of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, underscores the importance of states treading lightly in this federal space.  In addition,a long line of authority makes legislation that is racially or ethnically conscious constitutionally suspect."

Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, made the following comment:

"We agree with the governor's analysis of the intent of these four provisions, and we are gratified that the Governor drew the line at introducing more invasive and burdensome proofs of residency for anyone registering a motor vehicle. This status check would very likely have left many classes of documented immigrants unable to register their cars, and they would have caused every RMV client, no matter where they’re from, additional trouble for no demonstrated benefit to the Commonwealth.

"That said, we are disappointed that the budget's harsher fines and penalties will now go into effect. By bypassing the deliberations of the regular legislative process, the legislature has shown that it was interested largely in political grandstanding. We understand the governor's reasoning that these issues are related to state interests, but they may also court the racial and ethnic profiling of which he is rightfully wary, and they will surely affect many hard-working Massachusetts families, such as parents needing to pick up a daughter at school or take a son to the doctor. We hope that in the future the legislature will demonstrate more restraint before increasing state penalties that invidiously target people for their federal immigration status."