Vote last week on immigration issues

Jeff Perry’s amendment number 119 to the budget kicked up a storm of controversy. I received emotional input on both sides of the issue, but the limited evidence that is readily accessible suggests that in practice the amendment wouldn’t have changed much.

The amendment would require the use of enhanced verification procedures to determine the immigration status of applicants for benefits. However, to many people calling on both sides of the question, the issue seemed to be whether illegal immigrants should be entitled to benefits.

In truth, the laws governing the major welfare programs — medicaid, welfare and food stamps — all prohibit participation by illegal immigrants and provide for extensive verification. Here are some relevant links:

HHS staff report that they use federal computer program mandated by the amendment, SAVE, in ambiguous cases.

While the data are sketchy, anecdotal evidence suggests that these protections suffice to prevent undocumented immigrants from seeking benefits — most seek to avoid contact with bureaucracy. For one actual study, see this link.

I haven’t seen a real study of the eligibility standards and verification procedures for all programs offering benefits in the Commonwealth, and the proponents of the amendment didn’t offer one, but the highlights visible in a quick review suggest that the amendment didn’t speak to a real problem in practice — it was based on good politics, but not based on good analysis.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

18 replies on “Vote last week on immigration issues”

  1. Will,

    Personally, I don’t think yet another law on the books making it illegal for those persons here illegally to get public benefits would make much difference. The problem is that towns, i.e., sanctuary cities like Cambridge, knowingly disregard the enforcement of existing Federal laws and most likely state laws which would protect the law abiding citizens from having to foot the bill for any and all financial burden associated with illegal being here.

    And leaving public benefits aside for the moment, what about the cost to MA residents in lost jobs and wages due to the employment of illegal aliens? What is your sense on this? It seems to me that if the current employment laws were enforced so that no employment was available to anyone here illegally, the incentive to come here illegally in the first place would be taken away and the issue of public benefits would become a non-issue.

    What are you able to do as my representative, to ensure that employment in the state of MA is available only to US citizens?


    1. I trust you mean green card holders and people with work visas, should also be able to work? Or are you pushing for a narrowing of the employment definitions under national policy to limit employment only to full citizens?

  2. Yes, I meant anyone who is legally eligible for employment in the US including green card holders and folks with work visas.

    1. OK. I understand.

      The issue is certainly a live one nationally and even here in Massachusetts. Interestingly, there is no active push that I am aware of, from either party, for legislation on the jobs issue at the state level in Massachusetts. (The Perry amendment was about benefits.)

      I think the truth may be that many of the jobs that illegal immigrants have are jobs that are hard to fill with legal workers and therefore there is a little bit of schizophrenia on the issue. As I recall, Governor Romney turned out to have illegals doing landscaping on his property.

      The Perry amendment and the events in Arizona focused us on the issue, so I’ll certainly be listening carefully over the weeks to come.

      1. Will,

        If we don’t know who’s here illegally and what jobs they are taking away from those eligible for work, how can we know that they are taking jobs that “are hard to fill with legal workers”. I suspect that if a serious study was done, it would be revealed that illegals are not only employed in the “hard to fill” jobs, as you suspect, but have also moved into better paying construction work (roofing, carpentry, etc).

        I recall well the way Mr. Romney was castigated when it was revealed that he had illegals doing his yard work. And I recall that it was brought to light not to point out a problem with illegals easily obtaining work here in MA, but rather as means to win political points. And who among us can say with certainty that any and all contracted work, either direct or indirect, that we have been a party to was done completely by eligible workers? How does the normal law abiding citizen verify that the company they have contracted with for work employs eligible workers? Surely, this is the government’s job, at which it is failing miserably.

        I would have thought you might give this a bit of a higher priority than just a wait and see position. What I had in mind was something more in line with the leadership shown by State Rep. Peter Palumbo, D-District 16, Cranston, Rhode Island with his proposed legislation H 8142. See here for details:


        1. Thanks, Mark for weighing in.

          Still studying the issue, but I am so far clear that Massachusetts should not pass an Arizona type law. Arizona is responding to violence and disorder that we fortunately don’t have in Massachusetts. The Arizona law is not what people are talking about and voting on right now here.

  3. Will/Mark,
    The reason it’s hard to fill jobs Illegals have is the fault of Government. Government makes it more appealing to do nothing and collect unemployment/welfare than to work for a living. I am not talking about the guy or gal down on their luck for a few months or a year because of a bad economy. I am talking about those generational welfare folks and people who are out of work for many years because the jobs available don’t pay enough or don’t fit their education. If we could instill the work ethic of illegals onto those on assistance (with some obvious exceptions for health/mental issues) then we would be better off. Or maybe we can get creative and start revoking citizenship for those who fail to be productive members of society and start replacing them with those who have the desire. 😉 Wouldn’t that be a kick.

  4. I agree with Paul’s sentiments. Whether you’re talking about our “progressive” tax policies, entitlements or immigration; our elected officials seem intent on rewarding poor behavior and alternatively punish good behavior. Can you believe the firestorm created by the state of AZ simply because they want the existing laws enforced! Completely illogical. Thankfully, there are a few people in government who do a good job of articulating the views of the majority of Americans-I urge you to check out Rep. McClintock’s (CA) response to Mexican President Calderon’s speech to Congress. I’ve copied the shortcut here-

    1. I agree, I was absolutely DISGUSTED to see Nacy Pelosi and the rest of the Democrats give That Jerk Calderon a standing ovation after he disrespected this country in front of Congress. November can’t come soon enough.

  5. I also urge the Mass House to pass the bill to deny ILLEGALS from recieving benefits. Taxpayers in this state overwhelmingly support this, lets see if our elected officials are listening.

    1. Thanks, Jim and Spencer,

      I’m listening carefully and looking for as much good information as I can on this issue. The principle of rule of law is clear. Understanding what is really happening out there is harder. I’ll certainly get this issue in focus before having to take a further vote on it.

  6. Will-Thoughtful answer. It’s sure better than-“this bill promotes racial profiling…and no I haven’t read the bill…” The Obama Administration is a complete embarassment!

    This is my read on what is really happening when it comes to entitlements for non-citizens: 1) The regulations are replete with exceptions (thanks for providing links above). Just call yourself a refugee or individual seeking asylum and you will undoubtedly qualify. 2) There is an entire industry that has been created in this commonwealth/country to assist new entrants with getting their “fair share”. To see what is wrong-you need to look no further than the case of the President’s aunt. Am I correct that she has never been gainfully employed? Yet she is “entitled” to a subsidized apartment, food stamps etc.

    I would prefer an amendment that strips out all exceptions for government benefits for non-citizens/aliens. In the meantime, I would urge you to vote yes on the bill before you. A no vote implies you are content with the present system.

    1. Thanks, Spencer.

      Just to be clear: There is no bill before me.

      The House and Senate will conference their budget versions and the whole budget will come up for an up or down vote. Regardless of the outcome of that process as it relates to the immigration issue — one of dozens in that process — my only option other than a yes vote will be a protest vote.

      Most likely, a further vote may not come for some time. Nonetheless, I am studying the issue, reading and reaching out to people on it.

  7. Will, thanks for the clarification. You must excuse my ignorance. What little knowledge I have about how government is supposed to work comes my days in front of the tv on Saturday mornings…remember those catchy toons? “I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill…” probably dating myself a bit. Nothing beats the 70’s for music and Saturday morning cartoons!
    Anyway, I took the time to look at one of your budget blogs “A Week of Ironies” and was surprised to see Paul using the President’s aunt to illustrate his point. Just as I had above. Interesting coincidence… I infer from your comments that you are dubious about the the real costs of immigration. Must I remind you that you voted last year to restore 40 million for health care to “legal impoverished immigrants”? How’s that for real expense? I recommend you pay close attention to the lessons being taught in CA. What makes this an “emotional” issue for me is the lack of common sense and vision of our elected officials. If you want people to abide by the rules-enforce them (as AZ is trying to do). If you want to maintain an industrious work force-don’t come up with regulations that promote the opposite. Re: the budget process and the intentional confluence of issues – if you want real transparency; let’s lobby for zero sum based budgeting. There is no accoutability in the present system. Here we are 2 years into this recession and still waiting for cuts in legislative staff…absolutely ridiculous…

    1. Thanks, Spencer.

      There are two very distinct issues: Policies toward illegal immigrants and policy towards legal immigrants. Yes, I did vote for health care for legal immigrants — they are people in need who are playing by the rules.

      Then there is a third issue: What is the net economic impact of our current immigration policies and their failures and inconsistencies. Many make the argument that immigrants pay income and social security taxes (through the withholding tax system) and aren’t eligible for many of the benefits that those taxes pay for. I really don’t think it is easy to estimate how all this adds up and I’m still looking hard at it.

      But on the different issue of lack of accountability for spending, although we are making progress, I do believe we have a way to go. There are many issues. An update on the one you mention: House staffing by the way has been worked down to to 495 (excluding the reps), the lowest level since 2005. The only lower level in the last 15 years was in 2004. I feel we should be still further down, but at least the institution has not entirely been immune to the pressures.

      The House spending issue is just a close-to-home example of the larger challenge of choosing sane priorities in balancing our budget — health care costs remain the biggest issue. Hopefully we’ll see some progress on that — two major bills pending, one for small business, one for municipalities.

  8. Will, the news about the House staffing is encouraging. Hate to be cynical but I must ask-were the employees transferred or laid off? Any idea if the merger between MassHighway and MTA has resulted in layoffs? I know of a couple of political appointees at MTA who would not be missed if they were let go…
    I grant you the policies for handling welfare claims should be different for legal immigrant vs. illegal. Still, I would argue it is the entire entitlement process that is misguided and unsustainable. That’s why I mention CA. Our governnment should not be the benefactor of first resort. Getting a “handout” should not be as easy as it is. E.g. I have a friend who received a 7 figure severence payout over a year ago…he collects an unemployment check nonetheless. What about President’s aunt? Would you at least concede that in these 2 cases, the government should not be cutting checks?

  9. I think the House staffing reductions are genuine. Not sure where everyone went, but they did not go to the other legislative accounts — the joint and senate accounts. Those accounts are also down. I think people left in a number of different directions.

    The clear savings from the transportation merger are in standardized pension and health care benefits. Not sure how headcount shakes out, but all state agencies are down an average 8% in absolute dollar terms from 08 to 11 (excluding medicaid and other health care), so I’m guessing that there are head count losses.

    Still chewing on the immigration questions. Granted for sure that we should enforce our rules.

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