Sanchez in hot seat on immigration measure
Challenger says he’s answering to Speaker, not Jamaica Plain constituents
WHEN STATE REP. Jeffrey Sanchez was tapped last July to be the new chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, it put a veteran liberal lawmaker from one of the most progressive-leaning districts in the state into one of the most powerful positions on Beacon Hill. While that was seen by many as good news for progressive causes in the Legislature, it meant there would be high expectations on the Jamaica Plain rep to deliver on those issues in a body where power is heavily concentrated at the top.
That dynamic has the 49-year-old lawmaker in the hot seat after the 2019 state budget he helped craft omitted language adding new protections to immigrants that was pushed strongly by advocates and liberal legislators. A liberal activist who is challenging him in the September Democratic primary accused Sanchez of blindly taking marching orders from House Speaker Robert DeLeo, while advocates and other lawmakers also condemned the move.
The provision, a pared-back version of the Safe Communities Act which had been introduced as a standalone bill, would among other things have prevented county sheriffs from striking agreements to cooperate with federal immigration authorities in some areas and banned police from asking anyone their immigration status unless required to by state or federal law.
The budget rider was included in the Senate spending plan, but not in the House version of the budget. A six-member conference committee, which Sanchez co-chaired along with Senate Ways and Means chairwoman Karen Spilka, was tasked with hashing out differences between the two versions, and omitted the immigration language from the final bill reported out on Wednesday. The conference committee report was quickly rushed to both chambers, where it was overwhelmingly approved and sent to Gov. Charlie Baker.
But Nika Elugardo, an MIT graduate and former policy aide to Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz who is challenging Sanchez in the September Democratic primary, says he should have pushed the measure forward and made the case for it.
“There are some issues where consensus should not be your measure of success,” she said, arguing that we should never be “using our tax dollars to aid the terrorizing of our residents.”
“I have come to the conclusion that our House leadership does whatever DeLeo wants, and DeLeo’s interests have never been the wellbeing of immigrants,” she said.
Sanchez, a Puerto Rican son of the Mission Main housing development in Mission Hill, said he supported the language adding immigrant protections, but did not believe there was sufficient overall backing for it in the House to include it in the budget package. “My support of the immigrant community is second to none,” he said.
“I get it. Donald Trump has done some really unbearable, out-of-control things. People are upset, and I’m upset,” Sanchez said. “At the same time, there weren’t people coalesced around the language” of the immigration measure.
Sen. Jamie Eldridge, the chief sponsor of the immigration provision, called it a “shameful day for the Commonwealth” after the language was omitted from the final budget.
Although the four Democrats on the six-member budget conference committee all supported the immigration language, Sanchez pushed back on the idea that they should have therefore included the provision.
“It’s easy for people to say Sanchez didn’t do something. But this isn’t the Sanchez show. This is the Commonwealth show,” he said.
Baker had threatened to veto the Safe Communities Act, but had been noncommittal on the immigration protection language that was included in the Senate budget. Sanchez pointed out that the measure did not pass the Senate by a veto-proof margin – the vote was 25-13 – and that the final budget package that the conference committee settled on was a product of Senate and House input. “All of us agreed on it,” he said.
Sanchez said he’s proud of the first budget completed under his tenure as Ways and Means chairman, and pointed to many provisions that are helpful to immigrants on health care, education, housing, and other areas.
Elugardo said all the talk from DeLeo and Sanchez of not sensing consensus for the measure is a “cover” for the speaker’s stranglehold on all major decision-making.
She questioned whether progressive causes are really benefitting under Sanchez’s rise in the House. “His votes consistently align more with DeLeo than with the progressive caucus,” she said, pointing out that Sanchez’s rating by the advocacy group Progressive Massachusetts has fallen from a B-minus last year to a C-plus.
Meanwhile, it wasn’t only Sanchez’s opponent, advocacy groups, and liberal lawmakers who were calling out the Legislature’s action. The former chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, John Walsh, unloaded in a Twitter thread on Thursday afternoon, questioning the idea that there aren’t necessarily enough votes in the House to pass the immigration language.
“If I don’t see a roll call on this one, I’m calling bullshit on this excuse and ALL Democratic Reps who accept the excuse are responsible,” he wrote.