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Mass. drunk driving death inspires bipartisan bill cracking down on unauthorized immigrants

In response to the death of a motorcyclist who was hit by a drunk driver who lacked a driver’s license because he was an undocumented immigrant, Massachusetts lawmakers from both parties introduced legislation on Friday that cracks down on unauthorized immigration.

In addition to increasing the penalties for driving without a license and restricting undocumented immigrants’ access to public benefits and employment, the bill would encourage the implementation of the Secure Communities program in Massachusetts. The MetroWest Daily News reports:

The bill would require the state Executive Office of Public Safety to report to lawmakers on actions it takes to assist with the deployment of Secure Communities, according to a summary provided by [state Sen.] Moore. It would require individuals or businesses seeking to register a vehicle to produce documentation such as a federal tax identification number, license or social security number. The bill would also strengthen penalties for people who drive without a license or knowingly allow someone else to drive their vehicle, according to the summary.

…The legislation also ensures that state-subsidized housing is reserved for legal Massachusetts residents and aims to help local building officials prevent multi-bedroom apartments from housing several families. Employment provisions of the bill include establishing penalties for employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers and requiring companies seeking public contracts to participate in programs to verify the eligibility of their employees, according to the documents.

The bill would also establish a complaint process by which ordinary people can report employers who hire undocumented immigrants to the District Attorney’s office, with a penalty for false reports.

Matthew Denice, a resident of Milford, Mass., was killed by Nicolas Guaman, an undocumented Ecuadoran immigrant, who struck Denice’s motorcycle with his car. The death led to calls in the community for action against unauthorized immigration. A member of the Milford Board of Selectmen, William Buckley, said of unauthorized immigration: “There’s a real impact. People are dying.”

Denice’s family, together with the selectmen and other members of the Milford community, have called on Gov. Deval Patrick (D) to support Secure Communities, a program in which local police give the biometric information of people they arrest to the federal government. Police can then hold suspected undocumented immigrants until they are taken into custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Although some states, including Massachusetts, have tried to resist implementing Secure Communities, Patrick’s administration has recognized that they have no legal authority to do so.

Well-publicized violent or criminal incidents involving undocumented immigrants have frequently prompted immigration policy crackdowns by state or municipal lawmakers. In Hazleton, Pa., a fatal shooting committed by two undocumented immigrants lead to a stringent enforcement law which became the model for statewide immigration laws like Arizona’s S.B. 1070 and Alabama’s H.B. 56.

Efforts to regulate immigration through housing policy have had little support from federal courts, as both the Hazleton law and a similar policy in Farmer’s Branch, Texas, were blocked by the circuit appellate courts (Hazleton is currently once again on the docket of the Third Circuit after the Supreme Court asked the court to revisit the decision). State-level employment regulation has proven more successful, with the Supreme Court recently ruling that employers could be penalized for hiring undocumented immigrants by revoking their business licenses.

Cosponsors of the new Massachusetts bill include Milford’s state Rep. John Fernandes (D), as well as state Rep. George Peterson Jr. (R-Grafton). State Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge) and state Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) sponsored similar legislation in the state Senate.

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