Local state Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez is being criticized over the state Legislature’s failure to pass undocumented immigrant protections when it approved the state budget on July 18. Sanchez, who holds the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee position, was a chief negotiator in the conference that reconciled the House and Senate budget bills.
Sanchez, who is a co-sponsor of an undocumented immigrant protection bill, said he is disappointed the legislation was not included in the final budget, as immigrants are “my friends, family, and neighbors.” But, he added, the conference committee did not see consensus for the measure.
The Senate passed a version of the state budget earlier this year with an amendment that had several provisions meant to protect undocumented immigrants, including a provision that would prohibit police from questioning a person about their immigration status unless required by law and a provision that would prevent local and state law enforcement agencies from acting as federal immigration officers. The House did not vote on a similar measure when it approved its own version of the state budget and the measure was dropped from the final budget that was passed on July 18. (The state budget was still awaiting Gov. Baker’s signature at the Gazette deadline.)
Jamaica Plain resident Julia Koehler, a local pediatrician, said she is “deeply disappointed and heartbroken” that the amendment was not approved. She said she has patients who come from all over Massachusetts to Boston for care. Some patients have parents who are undocumented and can’t have driver licenses and must live in fear to drive their children to a doctor’s appointment. Koehler related the story of one patient’s father who was arrested during a traffic stop, turned over to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and deported to the Dominican Republic. It severely traumatized the child, she said, to lose his father.
“Not having these minimum protections just shows a callousness and cold brutality of the heart I find frightening,” said Koehler.
She said that many of our neighbors in the community are undocumented immigrants, ranging from babysitters and nannies to landscapers and roofers to house cleaners.
“People can either open their eyes and ears or close them,” said Koehler. “We know what Donald Trump is doing.”
She said that Sanchez knows the “extreme fear and stress” the immigrant communities are suffering, but he was “unwilling to lift a finger” to get the amendment passed.
“He’ll talk one way and act the opposite way when it comes to concrete action,” said Koehler.
She said that while she appreciates the work Sanchez has done on bi-lingual education and “Lift the Cap on Kids” legislation, his “failure to act for the most persecuted and marginalized people for me is a failed touchstone test. This is a moral issue.”
When asked about Sanchez co-sponsoring an undocumented immigrant protections bill and how there did not seem to be support for the amendment in the House, Koehler replied, “I would say he himself is part of the lacking support. What has he done to have the House members show whether they support the amendment or not? They should have a vote on it. Why is he blocking the vote?” she asked.
Sanchez said in a statement, “As a leader on this type of work and sponsor of this legislation, I am disappointed but not defeated. I identify with these immigrant communities on a personal level: They are my friends, family, and neighbors. Hearing the appalling stories from the border remind me of what I saw working on the Mexico/California border in the 1980s, and I want to do everything within my power to help. The Conference Committee did not see consensus in the House and Senate to support including that particular amendment in the budget conference report.
“Everything we’ve done – including English language learners’ education, public housing, and healthcare this year – directly supports immigrants in Massachusetts. I’m having conversations with people every day to explain misconceptions and why it’s important for us to all come together on these issues. As I have done in the past, I will continue to lead. I look forward to a continued conversation with Members of the House, Senate, stakeholders, constituents, and beyond about what can be done at the state level to protect and empower immigrant communities.”
Besides Koehler, several other JP residents spoke to the Gazette and criticized Sanchez over the amendment.
Ruben Salinas Stern said he feels like the representative is not accessible to his constituents, as he recently participated in a rally at the State House focusing on the immigration amendment and Sanchez wouldn’t come out of his office to meet with them, while Jenny Hochstadt said, “We are one of the most progressive districts in the state. Many of us pour our hearts into easing the harsh reality for immigrants who live among us. Yet our state representative, Jeffrey Sanchez, excuses the House’s inaction on the Safe Communities Act saying ‘we’ll continue to have conversations’, while he continues to protect his position in House leadership rather than use it to protect the vulnerable and move forward a progressive agenda. This district deserves better representation.”
Heloisa Maria Galvão of the Brazilian Women’s Group said that “I am totally disappointed and frustrated with the Massachusetts legislature’s failure to pass the Safe Communities Act and to include four critical and basic provisions to protect immigrant families in the 2019 budget. Rep. Sanchez had an important role on this decision and he could have exercised his leadership to pass it and he chose not to. It’s a shame. I speak for myself and also for the Brazilian Women’s Group membership.”