Immigation: Massachusetts an Arizona Wannabe?

Tough economic times can translate into mean-spiritedness and make things difficult for those who are different. If you’re a Muslim-American, for example, you can be assumed to be a terrorist. If you’re Latino, you can be assumed to be an illegal immigrant. And, when an increase in bias against such groups plays out in the context of an election season, hold on to your seats: it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Immigration policy is, of course, a federal issue. That didn’t stop Arizona, frustrated by federal inaction to update and rationalize our immigration laws, from passing its own statute. And it didn’t stop the Massachusetts Senate from passing an illegal immigrant bill that codifies already existing policy that bars illegal immigrants from getting public benefits.

Rhetoric has been overheated on both sides of the issue, with immigrant advocates calling the legislation “misguided and inhumane,” and proponents painting a picture of widespread rip-offs of taxpayers by infiltrating illegal aliens. As a Boston Globe editorial points out, illegal immigrants have replaced yesterday’s welfare queens as the subject of contempt and punishment.

Sane policy probably understands the truth is nuanced, somewhere between the two portrayals. Law-abiding citizens shouldn’t have to underwrite income assistance, unemployment benefits or public housing for illegals, but, if the child of an illegal immigrant becomes ill, should the hospital turn its back? If the child had a highly infectious communicable disease, should she go untreated? Not to do so could have significant public health implications.

You could also make the case that an 18-year old child of an illegal immigrant should be allowed to attend public university at the in-state tuition rate. Won’t that student be better able to contribute to society with a better education and, if he stays here, better able to provide for his children? After all, we’re not saying that student should go tuition- free, just that he or she should pay the lower in-state tuition rather than the higher out-of-state cost. The children of illegal immigrants are not the perpetrators of the crime; it’s their parents.

And the entire Muslim-American community are not, ipso facto, terrorists. Try telling that to Treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill. He recently blasted the Governor for “playing politics with terrorism” because Patrick had participated a meeting with 1000 Muslim-Americans. As recounted by Adrian Walker in the Globe, Cahill said, “Now is the time for Governor Patrick to look radical Islamic terrorism full in the face” and cooperate with the feds investigating the Times Square bomber. As Walker points out, Cahill seems to think that “any gathering of Muslims is the moral equivalent of an Al Qaeda meeting.”

Governor Patrick meets on a quarterly basis with representatives of the Commonwealth’s ethnic news media. There are reporters and editors from Chinese-American newspapers. Would Cahill charge the Governor with consorting with communist disciples of Premier Hu Jintao?

People need to calm down, especially state politicians. And Congress needs to have a greater sense of urgency about passing comprehensive immigration reform that includes border enforcement, punishmnent for employers that hire illegals, sanctions as well for those who reside here illegally combined with a rational approach to providing a path to citizenship for those who have been here for a long time and have become contributing members of their communities.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below

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