Is Massachusetts Turning Red on Immigration?

Celso Araujo, 50, an undocumented immigrant in Massachusetts

Celso Araujo, 50, an undocumented immigrant living in Massachusetts and looking for work. (Photo: WBUR)

A bipartisan group of Massachusetts lawmakers presented an immigration bill last Monday which makes one wonder whether the traditionally progressive state is turning red.

The proposed legislation is very much in the same vein as laws passed by more conservative states. The bill, provoked by a recent fatal accident involving an allegedly drunk undocumented immigrant driver, sets up a complaint line to report individuals who are working in the state illegally.

The statute also requires the immigration status of individuals appearing in court to be checked; calls for stiffer penalties for driving without a license and for creating, disseminating or using false identification; penalizes and sanctions companies that hire unauthorized immigrants; requires students at public colleges and universities to verify their immigration status to qualify for in-state tuition; asks applicants for public housing, family assistance or college grants to prove legal residency; and requires the administration to produce a report outlining how it is helping jurisdictions deploy the Secure Communities program.

Should the sponsors of the bill convince their fellow legislators to pass the law with constituent support, it would be a dramatic change in sentiment from a year ago.

A 2010 Suffolk University poll, taken after Arizona’s draconian immigration law passed, found that while 53 percent of Massachusetts residents said they supported Arizona’s SB 1070, only 43 percent said Massachusetts should pass a similar law.

But the drunk driving incident and other crimes allegedly committed by a few undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts are being used by enforcement advocates to drum up support for the bill.

Could the citizens of the Bay State get riled up enough to push their lawmakers – a majority of whom are Democrats – to support the proposed legislation?

Massachusetts has recently undergone considerable demographic changes. It is one of six states that can attribute all of its population growth during the past decade to Latinos.

At the same time, although the unemployment rate in Massachusetts is lower than the national rate, 8,900 people lost their jobs in August. To date, the state has only recovered a third of jobs lost during the recession and over a quarter of a million residents remain unemployed. The poverty rate rose from 10.3 percent in 2009 to 11.4 percent in 2010. Median household income fell by nearly $3,200, from $65,254 in 2009 to $62,072 in 2010. Might economic troubles, fear and uncertainty cause Massachusetts residents to blame undocumented immigrants for their woes?

A bipartisan group supporting such an immigration bill is a troublesome sign. Yet it seems highly unlikely that Massachusetts would turn red on immigration. The state’s economy is doing better overall compared to the rest of the country. The legislature is controlled by Democrats and Gov. Deval Patrick, who refused to bring the state into the federal Secure Communities program, will surely veto any measures like the one being proposed.  The Bay State should remain blue. For now.

Originally posted on Feet in 2 Worlds, September 30, 2011.

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