The inability of House and Senate budget negotiators to reach a consensus over immigration law enforcement doomed a budget measure that would have restricted local police from acting as immigration agents, the House's lead negotiator and supporter of immigration reform Jeffrey Sanchez said.
The exclusion of the Senate-backed immigration proposal from the budget deal struck and approved Wednesday in the Legislature drew swift and harsh criticism from supporters, including immigrant rights advocates, the sponsor of the amendment and the two Democrats running for governor.
The dropped provision would have prohibited local law enforcement from entering collaboration agreements with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as 287(g) agreements, and generally prevented police from inquiring into people's immigration status. It was a pared back version of standalone legislation know as the Safe Communities Act, which Gov. Charlie Baker had threatened to veto if it ever reached his desk.
"We just did not find consensus on those provisions," Sanchez told reporters, calling the budget accord "a balance" that required tradeoffs.
Sanchez was a co-sponsor of the Safe Communities Act in the House, and a supporter of the Senate budget language along with his vice-chairman and fellow budget conferee Rep. Stephen Kulik. In fact, when combined with the two Senate Democrats who voted for the amendment, at least four of the six budget conferees backed the proposal. The other two conferees were both Republicans.
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, however, had repeatedly raised doubts about the level of interest in taking on immigration among the full House membership, and he did so again on Wednesday. "As I have stated from day one, there's really been no consensus in the House," the Winthrop Democrat said.
DeLeo said he welcomed further debate on the issue, but said he did not believe any immigrants in Massachusetts would be put in imminent danger by inaction on Beacon Hill.
"I think that with the present laws that we have on the books here in Massachusetts, I think you will have those protections. I do not see any danger to folks here in Massachusetts in terms of the breaking of the laws of arrests or the like, but, again, to those folks I hear them I hear them loudly and clearly. I hear their advocacy and again I feel this is going to have to be an issue, not only with me but I think with a lot of members of the House in terms of the future," DeLeo said.
The speaker said Baker's veto threat did not factor into the decision to leave immigrant protections out of the budget, but Baker reiterated Wednesday that had it gone through he would have sent it back to the Legislature.
"We did not feel that that would enhance the quality of public safety in the commonwealth," Baker told reporters at an event in Newton, according to a video posted by MassLive. "We've made as series of proposals to the Legislature that built off the Obama administration policies with respect to public safety that we would prefer to see the Legislature adopt but we do not believe making Massachusetts a sanctuary state was a good idea."
Sanchez admitted having to weigh his own personal politics against the job of leading the House budget committee.
"I've been in full support of it. At the same time, I am the chairman of Ways and Means and it's up to me that I try to find consensus as much as a I can," Sanchez said.
That explanation did not sit well with supporters who have staged numerous rallies at the State House in recent months pushing for passage of the measure as national headlines about crackdowns on immigration have stirred fears in immigrant communities, advocates said.
"We are deeply disappointed. The Massachusetts Legislature had a prime opportunity to stand up for civil rights and human decency, and under political pressure from Governor Baker and conservative Democrats, it backed down. The safety and well-being of tens of thousands of immigrant families will suffer as a result," said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge, a sponsor of the Safe Communities Act and the author of the budget language, called it "inexcusable and shameful" that the policy was dropped from the budget, while the ACLU of Massachusetts accused the House of caving to pressure from Republican Gov. Baker.
"These basic due process rights, ensuring that Massachusetts was not collaborating with the Trump administration's mass deportation agenda, would have provided protections for tens of thousands of families across Massachusetts," Eldridge posted on social media. Later, he voted against the state budget.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, accused Baker of choosing "politics over people's lives" and said House leadership "acquiesced" to the Republican governor.
"Make no mistake: this decision now enshrines the politics of fear and silences the politics of hope and compassion," Rose said.
Not everyone was displeased with the outcome. Many Republicans and some conservative Democrats opposed the idea of making Massachusetts a "sanctuary state," and preferred a more law-and-order approach to illegal immigration.
"Good news on the State Budget front. We finally have a budget coming to the floor today and it does not contain language making Massachusetts a sanctuary state," Billerica Republican Marc Lombardo Tweeted.
Sanchez is facing a primary challenge from another Jamaica Plain Democrat – Nika Elugardo – who has gone so far as to stage a rally outside his office pressuring the incumbent to deliver on immigration reform.
The chairman, however, said his campaign did not factor into his thinking of budget negotiations and he trusts that his constituents "know who I am and know where I come from."
"Are more people coming at me? Yeah. But it's because of this office, right? But did it impact? Absolutely no. I know exactly where I stand in my community. I bust my back every single day to make sure I follow my heart and do the right things by my community every single day. Nobody said this was going to be easy, but who the hell cares about a politician complaining," he said.
The death of the budget amendment may spell the end of the immigration debate in the Legislature for this year, but it's unlikely to abate outside of the State House as legislators leave the building at the end of the month to campaign for re-election and Democrats attempt to mount a challenge to Baker.
Jay Gonzalez, one of the two Democrats running for governor this summer, said the Safe Communities Act would be one of the first piece of legislation he files if elected.
"Today, we are led by a President whose immigration policies are informed by hatred, fear and xenophobia. Massachusetts needs to stand up and fight against these policies, not be complicit in them," Gonzalez said in a statement.
Bob Massie, the other Democrat in the governor's race, blamed the failure of the Eldridge amendment on Baker.
"Happy now @MassGovernor? Our immigrant communities will continue to live in fear of ICE raids and violent deportation so you can score more points with President Trump," Massie Tweeted.