IMMIGRANT ACTIVISTS DITCH HUNGER STRIKE, PLAN TO THANK PATRICK INSTEAD

By Michael Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JUNE 26, 2012. Encouraged by Gov. Deval Patrick’s statements Monday after they questioned his commitment to defeating “anti-immigrant” budget proposals, activists have called off a planned hunger strike and State House sit-in and instead will send thank-you delegations to Patrick’s office and hold a press conference Wednesday to claim “victory” in the budget battle.

“I’m on your side. I’ve said that a million times,” Patrick told a small group of activists Monday afternoon as he left his office to meet with legislative leaders. “These provisions aren’t before me yet. I’ve been as clear as possible, not just with you but with the Legislature that if they come before me, it’s over . . . When it comes to me, if it comes to me, I’m on your side.”

Immigrant rights activists aligned with Jobs With Justice and Student Immigrant Movement early Monday gathered outside Patrick’s office, urging him to oppose budget plans advancing in the Legislature to tighten strictures on employers, the state’s Registry of Motor Vehicles, public housing agencies and MassHealth, requiring verification of immigrant status. Lawmakers also want to charge the attorney general with enforcing existing laws prohibiting employers from knowingly employing an unauthorized immigrant, making the employer subject to criminal charges, including up to one year in jail.

Lawmakers supporting the initiatives say they’re taking steps to safeguard limited taxpayer funds and driving privileges.

“If there are sides to be taken here, I’m sorry that the governor has taken the side of those who would defend the abuse of the system by those who are here illegally,” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr told the News Service Monday.

Lilly Huang, public education coordinator for Jobs With Justice, told the News Service Tuesday that activists are gearing up to announce an 11 a.m. press conference and rally outside the State House Wednesday.

“This rally is really to claim it as a victory,” Huang said. “We want to respect Governor Patrick and thank him for openly saying he’s against these anti-immigrant amendments . . . We have faith in the governor that he is going to veto these amendments.”

Asked if declaring victory may be premature, given the potential for veto overrides, Huang said that if overrides occurred, “we would have another discussion about who to target and what to do.” She added, “We’re not scared. We’re not afraid to come out and make our voices heard.”

Before Patrick addressed the activists Monday, an aide to the governor told them earlier in the day that the administration would not commit to a course of action on pending legislation until it was able to see final language as part of its review of bills that reach the governor’s desk.
Lawmakers are on alert for a $32.4 billion budget deal this week, although negotiators have not agreed yet to all of the details.

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