Mass. has a lot of work to do on immigration

State cannot assume Biden will solve all the problems

IN JUST FOUR YEARS in office, President Trump took more than 400 executive actions related to immigration. From his xenophobic Muslim travel ban, to his border wall vanity project, to his relentless efforts to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, Trump weakened an already dysfunctional immigration system with each stroke of his pen. His decisions harmed both immigrants and the broader American community.

After four years of unworkable policies, families, and businesses — immigrant, refugee, and US-born alike — finally breathed a sigh of relief when President Biden took office. On day one, he showed his commitment to dismantling the inhumane, anti-immigrant, and utterly counterproductive policies of the past four years. The administration signaled a responsible vision for a 21st-century immigration system that works for all Americans, by sending a bill to Congressthat would provide a pathway to citizenship for the 11 million people without status in the United States. He tookexecutive actions to end the Muslim ban, fortify DACA, halt border wall construction, revoke the public charge rule, reunite families, and more.

We thank the Biden administration for its commitment to building a workable, humane system that serves America and treats newcomers with dignity. However, it will take time to not just reverse the damage of the past four years, but to change an immigration system that has needed repair for decades. Even the interim enforcement priorities of the Biden administration do not fundamentally change flawed immigration policies that disproportionately target immigrants of color for deportation.

The work of building a 21st Century immigration system has just begun. Massachusetts cannot afford to be complacent. The new federal administration will not unilaterally solve all of our problems. The past four years taught us that federal policies can change with each new administration. To secure a stable and equitable environment for the Commonwealth’s diverse communities, Massachusetts needs to set its own course.

Massachusetts tolerated or supported longstanding federal and state policies that criminalize communities since long before Trump took office. For over 15 years, advocates have struggled to extend eligibility for a Massachusetts standard driver’s license or identification card to state residents, regardless of immigration status, as 16 other states have done. We fought to end voluntary state and local involvement in deportations and to prohibit 287(g) agreementswith ICE since 2017. Massachusetts is the only New England state with these agreements, which deputize county sheriffs as ICE agents. Such policies drive a wedge between immigrant communities and the institutions that serve and protect us all, including medical facilities.

COVID-19 has only underscored the need for state reforms, as the virus continues to wreak havoc on our communities. In this pandemic, everyone must be able to access testing, treatment, and vaccination without fear of immigration consequences. The Massachusetts Legislature must pass the Safe Communities Act and the Work and Family Mobility Act this session, for the sake of every Massachusetts resident, family, and community.

What are state lawmakers waiting for?

 State-level action is also needed to address the disparate impact of COVID-19 on black, brown, and immigrant communities. Massachusetts’ vaccination rollout has been deeply inequitable. For example, white residents represent 71 percent of the state’s population and have received 72 percent of first doses, as of March 18. Black and Latinx residents together make up 19 percent of the state’s population, but they have received only 10 percent of first doses.

In fact, the inequities go even further than these numbers suggest. COVID-19 mortality rates are three times higher for black and Latinx residents than white residents. These disparities are most pronounced in the communities that have been hardest hit by COVID-19, such as Lawrence, where only 2 percent of Latino residents have received the vaccine.

These disparities are unacceptable – and place all of us at greater risk. We call on Gov. Charlie Baker to immediately implement all five recommendations of the Vaccine Equity Now! Coalition, and on our state Legislature to pass theCOVID-19 Vaccine Equity Act, to prioritize the communities that have been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Meet the Author

Eva A. Millona

President and CEO, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
There is still much to be done in Massachusetts to ensure true equity and safety for all state residents, regardless of their immigration status. We pride ourselves as national leaders for justice and equality, but for too long, we’ve failed our immigrant and refugee communities. They must be recognized as part of the solution to this crisis, not a problem to be solved. Now is our opportunity to move forward – not a time to be complacent. The Legislature and Gov. Baker must act without delay.

Eva A. Millona is the president and chief executive officer of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), a multi-ethnic coalition of 130+ organizational members and the largest coalition in New England promoting immigrant and refugee rights and inclusion. Millona is also a chair or member of a wide variety of organizations dealing with immigratioh. She is a native of Albania and a proud naturalized US citizen.