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Patrick blasts immigration crackdowns

Rips Ariz. law, calls his foes grandstanders

By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / May 12, 2010

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Governor Deval Patrick yesterday blasted Arizona’s new immigration law, accused his gubernatorial opponents of grandstanding on the issue, and said supporters of such crackdowns were “trying to invent a villain for political purposes.’’

Addressing a roundtable of reporters from ethnic news media outlets, Patrick offered some of his most extensive comments to date about a highly charged debate that has flared in the governor’s race.

“Let me be clear: As long as I have anything to say about it, there’s not going to be an Arizona law in Massachusetts,’’ he said. “I can’t see such a thing passing our Legislature. But if it did, I would veto it.’’

Patrick said he would not, however, follow Boston’s lead and divest state funds from Arizona in protest.

Arizona’s new law requires police officers, “when practicable,’’ to check the immigration status of people they reasonably suspect may be in the country illegally, during a stop for some other offense.

The governor also sharply questioned the motives of those pushing a separate measure that nearly passed the Massachusetts House last month, which would have barred public benefits for illegal immigrants. Patrick said residents are “justifiably concerned’’ about illegal immigrants receiving benefits, but said Massachusetts already has a “whole host of screens’’ to ensure services are given only to those who are eligible.

“It makes me question what is motivating some of the proposals right now,’’ Patrick said. “And I don’t think those motivations are entirely above board. I think they’re about stirring up fear. I think they’re about demonizing people and trying to invent a villain for political purposes, and I don’t think that’s the way you govern.’’

Pointing out that two of his opponents in the governor’s race — independent Timothy P. Cahill and Republican Charles D. Baker — supported the House bill, the governor said, “Some of the ideas, I think, are really more about grandstanding and not about how we show humanity.’’

Rick Gorka, a Baker spokesman, pointed out that the measure seeking to block illegal immigrants from state benefits failed by an unexpectedly close 75-82 vote in the Democratically controlled House.

“Fifty-nine Democrats in the House agree with Charlie Baker that the state should not be giving services to illegal immigrants except in emergency situations and those involving a child,’’ Gorka said in a statement. “Whether it’s in-state tuition breaks or driver’s licenses, Deval Patrick continues to show he’s clueless when it comes to protecting the taxpayer.’’

Patrick has supported granting in-state tuition rates to graduates of Massachusetts high schools who are in the country illegally and granting driver’s licenses to all adults who pass the tests, regardless of their immigration status.

Cahill also defended his support for the House measure.

“I don’t know about Charlie Baker, but I’m not trying to play on anyone’s fears,’’ he said. “I’m just trying to enforce the law and put legal residents ahead of illegal residents. I don’t think there’s anything unfair about that.’’

Cahill praised the Arizona law, saying he would have signed it, too, if he were governor there.

But he said he would not support such a law in Massachusetts. “I don’t think we have to go that far here in Massachusetts, because we don’t share a border with Mexico,’’ he said.

Baker has declined to offer detailed comments on the Arizona law.

Patrick said he appreciates public frustration about the lack of federal immigration reform, but said Arizona’s law is not the answer, because it raises “concern about profiling and about who gets swept up by the law.’’

He said he is troubled that Mexican immigrants have become the public face of the illegal immigration debate.

“Sometimes I think there is an emphasis on immigrants who come from Mexico, as if they represent the whole family of the immigrant population in this country or the whole problem,’’ the governor said. “We have people here in Massachusetts who have come from Ireland and have overstayed their visas and come from other parts of Europe and overstayed their visas, and somehow that isn’t the face of the immigration problem. And that worries me.’’

Still, Patrick said he would not support a measure, similar to one enacted by the Boston City Council and under consideration in several other cities and towns, to withdraw public funds from Arizona. As for boycotting travel to Arizona, “people can make their own judgments,’’ Patrick said.

Green-Rainbow candidate Jill Stein said she would support divesting state funds from Arizona. “Arizona’s new law is deeply flawed, profoundly unjust, and a real threat to the civil rights of millions of residents of that state,’’ she said in a statement last week.

Patrick was addressing immigration as part of his quarterly meeting at the State House with about 20 reporters from media outlets that serve the Brazilian, Haitian, African-American, Asian, and Hispanic communities in Massachusetts, which could provide critical support for his reelection bid.

“Clearly, he’s being political,’’ Cahill said. “He was playing to his audience. But he shouldn’t malign my motives unless his are totally pure, which I’m sure they’re not.’’

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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