BOSTON/State House - A jubilant group of over 50 activists from the Student Immigrant Movement and allied organizations held a press conference on Friday to announce a victory in their campaign to get the Mass. legislature to overturn several provisions of an amendment to the Senate budget proposal for FY 2011 that they believe was an assault on immigrant rights.
The event was called on short notice after the Conference Committee - made up on an equal number of state representatives and senators - released its budget proposal on Thursday. Immigrant advocates quickly discovered that some of the contested provisions of Senate budget amendment 172.1 - including the proposed language that would have made it illegal for the children of undocumented immigrants that had grown up in the Commonwealth to ever qualify to attend Mass. public colleges at the in-state resident tuition rate - had been removed from the Conference Committee budget proposal.
The student immigrant organizers completed 19 days of the planned 30-day 24/7 State House protest vigil that they had dubbed Mass Hope 2010. During that time they ran a series of protests and lobbying events - including a 200 person rally on Tuesday.
Lily Huang of SIM said, "We got what we needed out of the conference budget - the anti-immigrant, anti-poor and anti-American amendment 172.1 is out of the conference budget. Also we got something else that we needed from the social justice and human/civil/immigrant rights communities from Boston - a coalition and a new momentum to fight for our rights. Students are creative and courageous and they created this coalition and vigil but we couldn't have done it and we couldn't have won without the long history of activism and the old and new friends that we worked with on this campaign. Students also showed us that we can make the road by walking it, that we can come together and fight while we are thinking of mission statements, roles, resources, and everything else. I think there is a lot more to do - to educate, organize and mobilize all our communities, including the white suburban community, the Asian American community, the African-American/Black community, to fight not only against something but, more importantly, to fight for better lives and communities."
Judy Khy of the Asian American Resource Workshop chose to read a statement by the Chinese Progressive Association at the event. The statement raised an issue which was also brought up by other speakers at the press conference - namely the proposal in the conference budget to eliminate health benefits for a large number of legal immigrants residing in the Bay State, "The conference committee released the final state budget last night which removed most of the new anti-immigrant provisions that had been proposed by the Massachusetts Senate. However, the budget codified existing regulations that prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing state benefits and eliminated funding for state-subsidized health insurance for almost 30,000 legal immigrants, known as the Commonwealth Care Bridge Program.
"The removal of most of the amendments is a testament to the voices of the many people in our communities who have been speaking up against the hateful and scapegoating atmosphere triggered first by the Arizona law and then the state senate proposals. The two-week vigil in front of the State House led by the Student Immigrant Movement brought public attention to the issue and galvanized community organizations, faith leaders, labor groups, and others to come together.
"This is a significant first step, but we must continue to fight the cuts to basic health care for thousands of families. We also must be concerned about a political atmosphere in which elected officials feel compelled to take action against the undocumented rather than focus on the real cause of our social and economic problems. The use of hate politics and of immigration as a wedge issue is not over, and our struggle is not over."
Several other speakers followed from a number of organizations including the Mass. Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice and MassCare. Rep. Denise Provost (D-Somerville) also addressed the crowd.
The Conference Committee Budget now goes to Gov. Patrick for vetos. Then the legislature will have a chance to override the vetos - after which the final budget will be signed into law by the governor.
Although they officially ended their vigil Friday, SIM organizers and other immigrant activists said they would keep up the pressure on state legislators until they have defended and expanded what they consider to be basic rights for Massachusetts immigrants.