During his first budget go-around as chair of the powerful Massachusetts House Committee on Ways and Means, state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez (D-15th Suffolk) is taking heat in some corners due to immigration provisions being stripped from the state budget during House-Senate negotiations.
In response, Sánchez says he strongly supports immigrant communities and is unhappy that the budget rider, which among other things would have prohibited police from asking people their immigration status unless required by federal or state law, ultimately did not appear in the approved state budget.
"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," Sánchez told Jamaica Plain News. "Hearing the appalling stories from the border reminds me of what I saw working on the Mexico/California border in the 1980s, and I want to do everything I can to help. What’s happening on the border is sickening and it resonates with everyone inside the State House. Almost daily, I’m having conversations with members of the House about the issue."
The failed budget rider was a remnant of the Safe Communities Act, on which Rep. Sánchez signed as a co-sponsor this session. The budget the Massachusetts Senate passed included language that would have mandated that police making arrests inform undocumented immigrants of their right to have a lawyer present during questioning by federal immigration officials.
But when the House and Senate worked out their compromise budget, the language was removed. Sánchez, whose district includes parts of Jamaica Plain, Mission Hill, Roslindale and Brookline, was one of the main negotiators of the budget.
The removal of the rider, and the fact that the budget amendment wasn't even called to the floor for a roll call, angered people including John Walsh, the former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.
— John Walsh (@JohnEWalsh14) July 19, 2018
Sánchez explained the reasoning as such: "The Conference Committee did not see consensus in the House and Senate to support including that particular amendment in the budget conference report."
Nika Elugardo, a Democrat running against Sánchez in September, previously criticized Sánchez for not supporting progressive legislation, and says she disagrees with the incumbent's reasoning.
“There are some issues where consensus should not be your measure of success,” Elugardo told Commonwealth Magazine. Shed added, “I have come to the conclusion that our House leadership does whatever (House Speaker Robert) DeLeo wants, and DeLeo’s interests have never been the well-being of immigrants.”
The state rep also drew the ire of Jamaica Plain residents like Julia Koehler, a local pediatrician, who has seen how children can be affected when forcibly separated from their parents due to immigration status.
"As a pediatrician, I cared for a young boy with deep and lasting mental health problems because his father was arrested at a traffic stop, imprisoned and then deported to the Dominican Republic. He was close to his father and could not recover from his loss. He was a sweet, quiet and withdrawn 9-year-old when I first met him, who could not read. A year and a half later, one of his teachers called me -- they were still unable to connect with him," Koehler wrote to Jamaica Plain News. "Representative Sánchez has failed to come out in support of the amendments that would protect many children like my patient, right here in JP, and throughout the Commonwealth."
Sánchez points to his role in preventing legislation that could have hurt immigrants, and supporting legislation that could help them.
"During the House budget process, amendments were filed that sought to prevent immigrants from accessing benefits and rights. Working with my colleagues, we prevented these amendments and instead passed a budget that supports immigrants," Sánchez said. "Everything we’ve done – including English language learners' education, public housing and healthcare this year – directly supports immigrants in Massachusetts."
Sánchez notes that the passed budget includes the following:
- Providing clear statutory authority to juvenile courts to protect unaccompanied immigrant youth aged 19 and 20 from deportation
- Ensuring that documented and undocumented immigrant students have access to quality public education and English language learner programs and classes
- Increasing funding for the low-income citizenship program within the Office of Refugees and Immigrants
- Increasing funding for domestic violence and sexual assault prevention, which funds immigrant safety and empowerment programs
Sánchez said he is having conversations with people every day to talk through misconceptions and why it’s important to come together on these issues.
"As I have done in the past, I will continue to lead," he said. "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.”