With one lawmaker citing President Lincoln's respect for the rule of law, the Massachusetts Senate passed a far-reaching crackdown this afternoon on illegal immigrants and those who would hire them, going further, senators said, than any immigration bill proposed over the past five years.
In a surprising turn of events, the legislation replaced a narrower bill that was passed Wednesday over the objections of Republicans.
The measure, which passed on a 28-10 vote as an amendment to the budget, would bar the state from doing business with any company found to break federal laws barring illegal immigrant hiring. It would also toughen penalties for creating or using fake identification documents, and explicitly deny in-state college tuition for illegal immigrants.
The amendment would also require the state’s public health insurance program to verify residency through the Department of Homeland Security, and would require the state to give legal residents priority for subsidized housing.
The amendment will now be part of negotiations with the House as part of the entire state budget.
Supporters, especially Republicans, struck patriotic notes and spoke of the sanctity of the law as they spoke on the Senate floor.
“It was President Lincoln -- and I’m going to paraphrase here -- who suggested that respect for the law should be preached from every pulpit taught by every mother to every child,” said Senator Bruce Tarr, a Gloucester Republican.
But one supporter said that the measure was being passed for practical purposes and would hurt people.
Senator Frederick E. Berry, a Peabody Democrat, complained that one of the Republican sponsors acted like the "Patriots had just won the Super Bowl. ... I am going to vote for it, but I don’t think we ought to rejoice."
Democrats had resisted such a sweeping proposal, but spent last evening negotiating today’s measure, shortly after a new polled showed 84 percent of the liberal-leaning state’s voters supported tough immigration rules barring state services to illegal immigrants.
Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat who opposed the amendment, said the measure had not been properly vetted and would add undue obligations to businesses and state government when they could ill afford it. She said it would cost the state money, while programs for children and public safety are being cut and people in her city are being shot at.
"I just don't think this is an appropriate time to be enforcing an additional cost burden on the state, doing things that are not our job," Chang-Diaz said.
The measure would also close what supporters say is a loophole that allows businesses to register cars under a company name, without identifying the owner by Social Security number and federal tax identification number. It would also crate a toll-free hot line for anonymous reporting of companies that employ illegal immigrants.
The measure comes weeks after immigration measures failed in the House, and amid heightened debate over illegal immigration fueled by the state's election season and Arizona's passage in April of the toughest immigration law in the nation.
Recent polls have found that, while voters supported blocking illegal immigrants' access to public benefits, they were split over whether the Bay State should have a law such as Arizona's.
Thursday's Senate amendment would also authorize the state attorney general's office to broker an agreement with federal authorities to help enforce immigration law. That would be a stark departure for Attorney General Martha Coakley, who has increased outreach to immigrants, encouraging them to file employment complaints, regardless of their legal status. Scores of immigrants whose bosses allegedly failed to pay their wages have turned to her for help in recent years.
The legislation also would increase penalties for driving without a license, one of the main problems facing illegal immigrants in Massachusetts. In November, a panel commissioned by Governor Deval Patrick urged him to push to grant driver's licenses and in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, among many other recommendations. Patrick sent the recommendations to his cabinet for study and pledged to return with a proposal in 90 days, but the results have not been made public.
Most immigrants in Massachusetts are here legally, but an estimated 190,000, or 20 percent, are here illegally, according to the census.
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