Boston lawmakers push for statewide sanctuary

By Boston Herald (MA) August 5, 2015 11:50AM

Beacon Hill lawmakers are quietly pushing legislation that could offer sanctuary protections to illegal immigrants across the state, the Herald has learned.

The new legislation, filed by state Rep. Byron Rushing (D-Boston), would ban public agencies from giving or sharing information on illegals with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless forced to do so by a court or a federal order.

The bill also would ensure illegal immigrants have access to state benefits -- such as welfare and driver's licenses -- and it would prohibit Bay State employees from denying "assistance, benefit, payment, service or participation in any program or activity" on the basis of immigration status, except as required by federal law.

State Rep. Shaunna O'Connell (R-Taunton) immediately decried the bill, saying, "This will make Massachusetts a sanctuary state that harbors illegal aliens and makes available to them every benefit under the sun."

"I think this would be devastating to Massachusetts in many ways," O'Connell said.

The sanctuary aspects of the bill mirror rules in San Francisco, where the July 4 random shooting death of Kathryn Steinle -- allegedly at the hands of an illegal immigrant deported five times -- brought the city's lax practices into question.

Several Republican presidential candidates now back "Kate's Law," named after the slain 32-year-old San Francisco woman, which would hand out five-year prison sentences to any deportee who returns.

The legislation is before the Committee on Children and Families, where O'Connell is a member. The panel was scheduled to hear the legislation last week, but the controversial bill was pushed back to September as sanctuary city policies sparked national headlines.

"This is a bill that just popped up," O'Connell said. "Nobody knew about it."

But Rushing responded to the outcry over his bill, saying it doesn't ask anyone to break federal laws and that he simply wants to encourage immigrants to move to the Bay State.

"It prohibits barring people on the basis of immigration status," said Rushing, adding that hot-under-the-collar politicians should "calm down."

"We want to make sure all people of Massachusetts are here legally, and we do that by helping them become legal citizens," he said.

Rushing admitted that there is nothing in his legislation to ensure that illegal immigrants are on a path to citizenship before they receive state services, but said he'd be open to adding that language.

The Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, a pro-immigrant group, has highlighted Rushing's bill on their website as "priority legislation."

They write that it "would provide clear guidance that inquiries into immigration status by state agencies and recipients of state funds are not permissible unless required by law."

Word of the bill came on the day Republican Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal appeared on Boston Herald Radio saying top officials in sanctuary cities should be held "criminally liable as accessories" for any crimes committed by illegals.

Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone quickly challenged the GOP presidential candidate to "come and get me." Curtatone, the mayor of a sanctuary city, said Jindal's plan is an attempt to push him "beyond the 1 percent right now" in presidential polls.