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Bay State is losing compassion.

Byline: Clive McFarlane

COLUMN: CLIVE MCFARLANE

In 2007, I visited New Bedford to see how that city was responding to federal immigration officials raiding a local factory and arresting more than 300 illegal workers, shuttling many of them off to detention centers in Texas and Massachusetts.

I witnessed dozens of New Bedford residents and out-of-town volunteers rallying in support of the children of those who had been arrested, children who were left to survive without one or both of their parents, or without a wage earner to provide for their well-being.

I remember how Massachusetts state officials, reacting to the raid, sent social workers to the detention centers, even those in Texas, to check on parents who may have been separated from their children.

The volunteers and state officials were showing the compassionate side of Massachusetts, the side that says great challenges need not be solved with great cruelty.

But times are changing. The Bay State is slowly hardening its heart against illegal immigrants.

A proposal by Rep. Jeffrey Perry, R-Sandwich, that would have required federal immigration checks on people applying for public state or local benefits is a good example of this change of heart.

When Mr. Perry's bill was initially proposed in 2009, the Democrat-controlled house squashed it by a 118-40 vote. The bill was resurrected this year and was again shot down, but this time by the razor-thin margin of 82-75 votes.

The surprising 28-10 vote by the Democratic Massachusetts Senate in May to pass a budget amendment cracking down on illegal immigrants is another example of the state taking a harder line on illegal immigrants.

Among its provisions are barring illegal immigrant students from receiving in-state tuition rates and fees at Massachusetts colleges and universities, requiring the state's Medicaid program to verify the immigration status of applicants, and increasing the penalty for driving without a license.

The bill would also have established a toll-free hot line for people to report the employment of illegal immigrants, and would have created new penalties for falsifying state driver's licenses and IDs.

The amendment was later abandoned and replaced by a "weaker provision" that strengthened the state's existing regulations and practices barring state services and benefits for illegal immigrants.

Supporters of comprehensive but compassionate immigration reform can perhaps take comfort in the fact that Mr. Perry, who trumpeted his tough stance on illegal immigration in his bid to win the 10th Congressional District seat this year, lost that race. Supporters should also be comforted by Gov. Deval Patrick's continued measured approach on illegal immigration.

Yet if you listen to some, such as freshman state Rep. Ryan Fattman, R-Sutton, the future for illegal immigrants, and even for some legal immigrants in Massachusetts, will likely get bleaker by the time the 2012 elections roll around.

"As a Republican caucus, we will be refiling the Perry amendment that requires U.S. citizenship for any public benefit upon receipt," Mr. Fattman recently told one of our reporters.

I would like to believe that Mr. Fattman misspoke, that he doesn't really mean that the state should deny public benefits to legal permanent residents, many of whom have fought in the nation's wars.

But I can't help but think it was a Freudian slip on his part, a peek into our hardening, uncompassionate future, a realization of how the fight against illegal immigrants could easily slip into a fight against noncitizens, and then into a fight for a favored grouping of citizens.

Contact Clive McFarlane via e-mail at cmcfarlane@telegram.com
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:1U7TX
Date:Nov 24, 2010
Words:585
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