Advocates rally for key immigrant protections in state budget

A group of about 60 protesters gathered outside the Massachusetts State House at noon on Tuesday, July 10, to demand the inclusion of key protections for immigrants in next year’s state budget.

The rally was organized by the Unitarian Universalists Mass Action organization, along with the Essex County Community Organization, and was in part a response to the state Congress sending the “Safe Communities Act” to study, which U.U. Mass Action Director, Laura Wagner, called  effectively a “death sentence.” Had the Act passed in the House, it would have limited the authority of federal agents in detaining immigrants, prohibit the use of state funds for immigration enforcement purposes, prohibit state departments from creating databases of those who were undocumented, and enact several other protection for those did not have legal status.

“Our legistion has failed us again this session,” she stated, “but the Senate has actually come through for us and has added an amendment to next year’s budget. If that budget passes, we get 4 key protections that were really the main points of the Safe Communities Act.”

Around 1:30, the group then moved into the State House and gathered outside both the House and Senate Chambers to make their presence known to lawmakers. Chants and demands echoed through the building, and were sometime interjected with speakers who gave their own personal insights on how these reforms would affect those in similar situations.

“For more than 30 years, I’ve been watching and observing families get pulled apart,”  Maria Fortes told ralliers. “In 1977, my family was able to come to United States. Unfortunately, the law did not allow them to bring siblings, so we had to be separated in family homes, so I know the pain and the struggle that comes with that.”

Jonathan Paz, whose father  was deported during his freshman year of high school, also shared his story. “It’s been 10 years, and I still haven’t seen [my father] in this land. I can only see my parents once a year….if this [amendment] doesn’t pass this summer, people will say, ‘oh there’s always next time,’ but between now and ‘next time,’ there will be many more families that will have ‘10 years’ on their minds.” Paz currently sits on the election committee for Progressive Waltham.

The Massachusetts Budget, which was late as of July 1 for this fiscal year, has been stalled by the attachment of several provisions, including education reform, healthcare, and community preservation grants. House Speaker Robert DeLeo told reporters on July 9 that he believes those “outside provisions” should be cast aside in order to pass a monetary bill as soon as possible.

“It’s imperative that we do a budget immediately and we take up a so-called money portion, which is what a budget is all about. Take that up now, and we can always go back and during the final beats of session, talk about some of that policy as well,” said DeLeo.

If the budget is passed with  a key provision proposed by Senator Jamie Eldridge, amendment #1147 would stop police inquiries about immigration status, stop any state collaborations with ICE, provide immigrants with due process protections, and prevent any contributions to any discriminatory registries. However, it is not without controversy, and Gov. Charlie Baker has already stated that he would veto any immigration measures attached to the budget.

“I do not believe the state should be stepping into this. And I especially don’t believe that we should pass legislation that makes it impossible for the state of Massachusetts…to talk to the feds,” stated the Governor in late May.  

Of the 46 states that begin their fiscal years on July 1, Massachusetts is currently the only state that has not passed a budget. While a temporary budget has allowed government programs to continue operating, the state Legislators do not have much time to spend, as their formal session ends on the July 31.

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