Mass. Gov. Patrick skeptical of immigration plan

By Steve Leblanc
Associated Press Writer / June 1, 2010

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BOSTON—Gov. Deval Patrick expressed skepticism Tuesday about a tough Senate-approved crackdown on illegal immigrants and questioned if the state could afford to pay for the new measures, even as he acknowledged he hadn't read the 22-page budget amendment.

Patrick said if the plan simply reaffirms steps the state is already taking, he's not sure it adds anything to the debate.

But Patrick declined to say whether he'd support or veto portions of the measure that go far beyond current law, including the creation of a hot line to let residents report suspected illegal immigrant workers.

"It will be interesting to see if anyone is going to fund the staffing for that hot line," Patrick told reporters before heading into a meeting with legislative leaders Tuesday.

Supporters of the wide-ranging proposal haven't been able to say how much the various measures would end up costing taxpayers.

"We have more than enough to do enforcing existing state law on a whole host of areas," Patrick said. "The idea of having limited state resources take on federal responsibilities does not seem to me to be practical."

Patrick isn't the only top figure on Beacon Hill distancing himself from the Senate plan, which is intended to clamp down on the ability of illegal immigrants to obtain a range of state services from Medicaid to public housing.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo also said he hadn't read the Senate measure.

"Right now I couldn't say if I like parts of it, all of it, none of it, whatever. I think it's much too premature," DeLeo said before heading into the same meeting. "I haven't even looked at it."

Attorney General Martha Coakley also questioned the cost of the plan.

Besides overseeing the hot line, Coakley would be authorized under the Senate amendment to enter into a "memorandum of understanding" with the U.S. attorney general to work collaboratively to enforce the nation's immigration laws.

Coakley said she understood frustration about the nation's immigration policy and said the federal government needs a comprehensive response.

If the measure becomes law, Coakley said she'd do her best to work with federal law enforcement "while best addressing all of our law enforcement priorities, including maintaining public safety in our communities and taking on companies that violate our labor laws to gain an unfair advantage over other businesses."

Senate President Therese Murray, who didn't vote on the amendment, has also refused to embrace the measure, calling parts of it "unfortunate."

"I don't necessarily agree with everything that's in it, Murray, D-Plymouth, said after the vote.

The Senate voted 28-10 on Thursday to back the measure as an amendment to its version of the state budget.

The measure would also require companies doing business with the state to verify that their workers are in the country legally. It would bar children of illegal immigrants from obtaining the same in-state tuition discount to public colleges as legal Massachusetts residents.

The measure faces an uphill climb.

It must first survive closed-door budget negotiations between a six-member House and Senate committee charged with drafting a final version of the budget. The House narrowly rejected a similar amendment during its budget debate.

Even if it makes it into the final budget, it must then survive any possible veto by Patrick.

The amendment has sparked criticism from immigrant activist groups. On Thursday, they plan to rally at the Statehouse to protest the proposal.

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