Sunday, April 21, 2024

Foes of anti-immigration efforts rally in May 2006 at Cambridge City Hall. A budget amendment seeking to root out undocumented immigrants was approved last month. (Photo: Sushiesque)

Saying it left them “appalled” and “aghast,” city councillors voted 8-1 on Monday to condemn the May 27 anti-immigrant amendment attached by senators to the state budget.

“What’s really worrying about a lot of these immigration laws across the nation is that when you seek to divide and separate and target individuals living within society, it puts all of us under additional scrutiny, not just immigrants, so the government can pick out who is who,” said Leland Cheung, who wrote the policy order. “ I was really aghast when this passed the state Senate.”

The amendment requires the state attorney general’s office to set up a hot line for people to anonymously report businesses hiring illegal immigrants, as well as to investigate the reports, and forces courts to report illegal immigrants charged with crimes to federal authorities, even before charges are heard in court. It also requires state contractors to confirm workers are here legally; makes law of a state policy barring illegal immigrants from resident-tuition rates at state colleges; and requires the state’s public health insurance program to verify residency through the Department of Homeland Security.

The requirements put huge financial burdens on private and public resources, Cheung said. He outlined some of the expenses in his policy order.

Tim Toomey, a councillor who is also a state representative for Cambridge and Somerville, noted that a similar amendment failed in the House.

While last year it failed 118-40, Toomey said, this year it failed 82-75. He blamed the gain in supporters largely on “the economic situation and the Scott Brown effect.”

“Strong possibility” of survival

The amendment is in a conference committee reconciling House and Senate versions of the budget. The committee includes an equal number of members who have voted for and against the amendment, giving it a “strong possibility” of survival into a final budget, Toomey said.

“If it does survive, I’m sure some people will vote against the entire state budget because of this,” he said. A veto of the budget by Gov. Deval Patrick would be the final chance for opponents of the amendment to keep it from becoming law.

State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli was alone among Cambridge legislators in backing the amendment.

Among Cambridge senators, Sal N. DiDomenico and Steven A. Tolman voted against the amendment; Anthony Petruccelli voted in favor.

Cambridge’s entire House delegation — Toomey, William N. Brownsberger, Jonathan Hecht, Byron Rushing, Martha “Marty” Walz and Alice K. Wolf — voted to send an immigration amendment back for study.

Before voting on its condemnation, councillors spoke gave their reactions to the amendment, including Denise Simmons, who said, “I actually was aghast when the legislature passed this. I would never have expected … that this legislation would pass in a state of immigrants.” Like Henrietta Davis, she suggested the condemnation be distributed widely to let other legislators “know how appalled we are.”

Cheung’s policy order already asked that the official condemnation be sent to Cambridge legislators, Senate Conference Committee and Patrick.

The sole vote against the condemnation came from Craig Kelley, who is often the council contrarian.

“If we want to have laws about immigration, then we should enforce those laws that we’ve decided to have. Clearly the system is broken for a lot of people,” Kelley said after the meeting. “This amendment probably isn’t the way to fix it — but like the Arizona one as I understand it, part of it is right wing xenophobia and part of it is mainstream screaming for more attention to be paid to a major issue that has been dodged by administrations and everyone else in the world for year after year after year.”

“The feds aren’t doing anything,” he said. “Something like this and Arizona’s law are the local governments saying, ‘This isn’t working.’”

As Kelley tried to clarify the reasoning behind his vote, Ken Reeves said, “I’m sure you represented somebody.”

Immigrant success story

Three residents spoke during a public comment period, including Robin Finnegan, who scoffed at the idea of the 24-hour telephone hot line, which “gives the message that such an incident is a critical emergency.”

On the contrary, she said, in a thought echoed by Reeves, the loss of vulnerable immigrant workers at the bottom of the pay scale is likely to hurt the economy.

One-time dishwasher and now Harvard graduate Dr. Carlos R. Ponce — he graduated two weeks ago and is entering his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital — also spoke, testifying to his progress since his family’s crossing of the Mexican border in 1991, when he was 12. After years in which he was an undocumented immigrant and student, he was granted citizenship by “this wonderful nation” two years ago in Faneuil Hall.

“There are thousands of undocumented students who will do their best … if they only have the same chance,” Ponce said. “This Massachusetts Senate amendment will destroy these opportunities for a new generation of doctors and scientists. I pray the city of Cambridge will continue its proud tradition of supporting believers of the American dream regardless of their” citizenship status.