Massachusetts Immigrant Rights Groups Fight to Win

After a 19-day protest, the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM) and allied organizations celebrated a victory in their campaign, Mass Hope 2010, for the Massachusetts legislature to overturn a budget amendment laden with anti-immigrant language.

For those 19 days, SIM members staged a 24/7 vigil in front of the State House, risking arrest by local law enforcement, as a stand in solidarity with immigrants, both documented and undocumented, in Massachusetts.

SIM RallySIM initiated Mass Hope in late May when the state legislature's conference committee released its budget proposal for the new fiscal year, which was laden with provisions  that would have been an affront to the rights of immigrants and children of immigrants with regard to employment, housing, education and public services.

The anti-immigrant legislation, amendment 172.1, was not only a threat to immigrants' civil liberties, but would have also been costly for taxpayers and highly inconvenient for a state government that's already stretched thin by the ongoing recession.

Amendment 172.1 would have exemplified government at its worst. Its wasteful and punitive measures were neglectful of its impacts on the families of undocumented immigrants, and Massachusetts' immigrant communities as a whole. And, it would have done absolutely nothing to address the root causes of unlawful migration to the US.

SIM's mobilization succeeded in getting the conference committee to take their proposal back to the drawing board. The outcome was, in large part, a win for immigrant rights. While most of the proposed new restrictions and regulations were struck down, the final budget proposal contained provisions that codified existing practices and regulations as law.

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition (MIRA) expressed mixed feelings about the final budget. In the process of drafting their final budget proposal, the conference committee eliminated a program that has been providing state-subsidized healthcare for nearly 30,000 documented immigrants, raising concerns for the physical and financial well being of thousands of men, women and children. Another concern MIRA has conveyed is the closed-door message the immigrant-related codifications send to future immigrants to Massachusetts, which has come to be known as one of the most immigrant-friendly states in the US.

The budget is now headed to the Governor's desk for review. Although most involved in Mass Hope are content with the conference committee's decisions, MIRA still cautions Gov. Deval Patrick to carefully consider the implications of the immigrant-related provisions they've deemed as problematic.

The vigil has officially ended, but SIM and other activists will keep up the pressure on their state legislators to defend and expand the basic rights of immigrants in Massachusetts. UFE is proud to have participated in Mass Hope. UFE staffers participated in the vigil, in rallies, provided support, resources and a space of community for the campaign planners, protesters and others involved.

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