BOSTON — Joined by several Milford officials, the families of and testified Tuesday in support of legislation that would target some of the impacts of illegal immigration on communities.
Introduced by state Rep. John Fernandes (D-Milford) and state Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge), along with two Republican representatives, the bill targets numerous issues in the areas of public contracts, public housing, public safety and motor vehicle registrations. [Editor's note: see attached PDF for filed bill.]
Fernandes, speaking about the bill, said it is not attempting to address illegal immigration, but its impacts on local communities by targeting employers and landlords, among others, "who are exploiting immigrants."
Among its provisions:
It would , from $100 to $1,000, under a progressive scale that ticks up for each subsequent offense.
It would require companies seeking public contracts to certify that their employees are authorized to work in the U.S.
It would require that state resources and benefits — including in-state tuition — be reserved for U.S. residents.
The bill also would require people who obtain motor vehicle registrations to provide a Social Security number, a federal tax ID number, or proof of legal residence.
The hearing before the joint Judiciary Committee drew a large crowd. The hearing room overflowed its capacity, although many in the audience attended for other bills. The crowd, however, was peppered with people opposing the bill, who shook their hands silently, to support speakers who opposed the bill.
Maureen Maloney, whose son, Matthew Denice, was killed last August after he was struck while riding a motorcycle in Milford, spoke first. She described his personality and reputation before explaining to the committee members how he died.
"Ten minutes after he left his friend's house, he was killed by an unlicensed, illegal immigrant who was drunk."
The legislation, she said, addresses some of the reasons why illegal immigrants come to Massachusetts. "Why would illegal immigrants not come to Massachusetts, when we are so willing to provide them with jobs and opportunities that they cannot find in their own countries?"
Maureen Grossi Laquerre, whose brother died following a collision with a Portuguese woman who was living in the U.S. illegally, and driving without a license, told committee members: "I've waited two and a half years for these three minutes," a reference to the time limit for public speakers.
The woman arrested and later charged in her brother's death was deported to Portugal before she faced trial on the charges, according to court records.
"Do you call that justice?" Laquerre said.
Testifying against the proposal were representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the Chelsea Collaborative, and Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
Opponents said the measure will increase the likelihood of racial profiling by police, will discourage immigrants — legal or otherwise — from reporting crime, and will damage people's livelihoods.
Shannon Erwin, state policy director of MIRA, expressed sympathy for the Denice family, but responded: "Alcoholism and the problem of driving while intoxicated do not discriminate in their victims."
The bill will not make communities safer, she said, instead, it will make them less safe because it will discourage crime reporting in immigrant communities. And despite the focus on illegal immigrants, she said: "Immigrants are less likely to commit crime than the native born. Yet this bill targets immigrants."
Gladys Vega, executive director of the Chelsea Collaborative, said the bill needlessly targets immigrants for criminal behavior. "This brings up profiling," she said. "This brings up a community who is not secure enough to call the police department because they think ICE will come with the police department. Let's make policies and rules that protect people, regardless of where they come from."
Testifying in support of the bill, in addition to the Maloney and Grossi families, were several town officials. each spoke to the committee.
O'Loughlin explained that the existing fine structure for the offense of driving without a license is not a deterrant, that the court system has become a "revolving door" of violators paying the $100 to $250 fine, and then returning to driving again.
One of the committee members, state Rep. Carlos Henriquez (D-Boston) questioned why the bill ties immigrants to unlicensed driving, instead of seeking to "increase penalties for unlicensed drivers, regardless of whether they are immigrants. I would love to see that."
The committee, led by Sen. Cynthia Creem (D-Newton) will be taking testimony in writing from people who could not attend the meeting.
The address: Judiciary Committee, State House, Boston, MA 02133, reference bills H3913 and S2061. Writers can also direct their letters to either Sen. Moore or Rep. Fernandes at the same address.