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Saturday, January 14, 2006

Hard Lessons

Every immigrant who comes here should be required within five years to learn English or leave the country.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)

One fact didn’t get reported in the coverage of the defeat of the bill to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at state schools, rather than the out-of-state rates they are charged now.

The legislation was illegal.

A good explanation of the legal issues involved can be found HERE at FinAid, a public service web site explaining college tuition issues. A quote from the site,
Specifically, Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (Title 8, Chapter 14, Sec. 1623) states: "an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State ... for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident."

In effect, that disallows charging a different rate for in-state and out-of-state students entirely, which would mean an enormous hit in terms of funding. The loss of the out-of-state could cost the system millions, rather than the paltry benefit of additional tuition as reported by the Mass. Taxpayers Foundation (Mr. Widmer's foundation is aptly named, as it believes that Mass. residents should pay as much taxes as possible all of the times). Despite that fact, laws have been passed in 8 states, and are pending in a dozen others. A Supreme Court case is pending, which will decide the status of all of these laws, but what is interesting now is the political fight.

This legislation had the support of Speaker Sal DiMasi, and was supposed to be a slam dunk – just like the gutted version of Melanie’s Bill. Say what you will about Tom Finneran, there would never have been six hours of debate and a defeat for a leadership initiative by a vote of 57 to 97 on his watch.

Dozens of exploited illegal students watched the debate from the gallery and comforted each other after the House adjourned for the day. While these children, brought here by their parents without any personal responsibility for their presence here, are the poster children for showing compassion it is important to remember that the legal break afforded now only to bona fide residents and legal immigrants has no age limits attached to it.

"I'm no longer surprised by the power of fear, and that's what won today … This administration has propagated the politics of fear in a remarkably relentless and ruthless way," said Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrants and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (yes, it's all Romney's fault that the Democrat Legislature voted her bill down - everything always is!). A spokeswoman for Speaker DiMasi said, "He was aware it was an uphill battle. But he also thought the substance of the bill was not understood by the public." In reality, they understood it only too well. Helped by the efforts of the tiny Republican caucus, especially Rep. Jeff Perry and Rep. Don Humason, who took the argument to the airwaves, both legislators and their constituents took a second look.

Support had been eroding for over a week, when advocates had thought they would have a veto-proof majority of 100 votes. DiMasi sent a letter to the legislators indicating that amendments to "clarify and strengthen" the bill would be allowed. The Democrat leadership requested support for three amendments: requiring federal tax identification numbers, proof of a Massachusetts-issued equivalency degree as an alternative to a high school diploma within the state, and a more specific affidavit attesting to efforts to achieve citizenship. It was too little, too late. An amendment, sponsored by Rep. Christine Canavan (D-Brockton), would have required non-citizen students, as a condition of eligibility, to provide proof of a taxpayer identification number and a signed affidavit that they have applied for . That was defeated 75-77, as was another amendment by Rep. Loscocco that would have required an actual application for citizenship be made, not just an unenforceable letter stating intent like Rep. Canavan’s called for. In fact, Canavan voted against the final bill even though she had championed it in the debate. Much of DiMasi’s leadership team abandoned him, including Ways & Means Chair Robert DeLeo, Assistant Majority Leader Lida Harkins and Speaker Pro-Tem Tom Petrolati. Again, unthinkable under Tom Finneran, and the second major defeat to be handed to DiMasi in just a few weeks.

One Democrat who proved she is still a force to be contended with was Rep. Marie Parente (D-Milford). Too conservative (and sensible) to retain her Chairmanship under DiMasi, she had plenty to say in the debate. Squaring her broad shoulders and tossing her mane, she demonstrated her still formidable presence. Porcupine’s favorite riposte was this, “Let me get this straight. We let them come here because they are taking the jobs that we Americans don’t want. Now we want to educate them so they can take the jobs we DO want?”

Outside the chamber after the vote, Rep. Byron Rushing told a crowd of students, "Just remember, we get a Democratic governor next year, and you only need 81 votes."

Perhaps he was referring to Attorney General Tom Reilly’s support for the bill? As the chief law enforcement official of the Commonwealth, for him to suborn the bestowal of benefits upon people whose status is criminal is an implicit abandonment of his duty. After these young people are educated, no Massachusetts employer can legally hire them - or does gubanatorial candidate Reilly plan to look the other way at that, too?

Of course, the ultimate blame for this fiasco lies at the feet of our current immigration law, written in 1974 by…Senator Ted . At that time, he included a provision for extra immigrants to be allowed from Ireland due to economic hardship. Of course, the Irish economy rebounded over a decade ago, and that dispensation could be bestowed more productively upon Eastern Europeans who come here on H2-B visas, but, well, Kennedy has bigger fish to fry now. Professional fulminating has overtaken him.

Once again, Congress has ignored its responsibility to pass effective statutes, preferring instead to be governed by court edict. Then it isn’t their fault, and everybody can love them. Perhaps that is why the Alito hearings are consuming so much Congressional attention – after all, it isn’t like they make the laws or anything.


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