Mass. Governor Meets Ethnic Media Over In-State Tuition, Driver's Licenses, Immigration Reform

Gov. Deval Patrick and Frank Herron, director of the Center on Media and Society at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. (Photo: E. de Oliveira)

Gov. Deval Patrick and Frank Herron, director of the Center on Media and Society at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. (Photo: E. A. de Oliveira)

By Eduardo A. de Oliveira, and FI2W reporter

Proclaiming that, “we need immigration laws that are consistent with our values,” Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick held a wide-ranging press conference with ethnic media journalists at the State House in Boston.  At the meeting, last Friday, the governor defended the creation of partnerships with immigrant communities, answered questions on topics such as bilingual education and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants, and commented on race relations under President Barack Obama.

The audience of about fifty journalists –more than 35 from immigrant communities– came from African-American, Brazilian, Chinese, Haitian, Japanese, Korean, Latino, Polish, Portuguese and other print, broadcast and Web media.

The governor made brief remarks at the opening of the press conference, saying democracy thrives when it maintains an unfiltered press. He then opened the floor to the journalists’ questions on topics from “anywhere in your agenda you want,” he said.

At least one topic formed a common thread for many of the journalists: access to driver’s licenses for undocumented workers, many of whom contribute to the state economy and pay taxes.

An reporter reminded the governor that five police chiefs in Massachusetts say that giving driver’s licenses to such workers would increase public safety on the roads.

“The issue is that the Real ID Act, [the federal law that calls for the creation of a common driver’s license for the entire country,] doesn’t permit a unilateral [state] approach without consequences,” Patrick replied.

“This is a small piece of a broader picture called immigration reform. And when people talk about the difference between lawful and unlawful immigrants, I get that.

“But we need immigration laws that are consistent with our values.”

The topic was revisited at least five times during the press conference.

Marcony Almeida, editor of Brazilian Journal magazine, inquired whether the governor would seek a state solution if the Real ID Act ended, as Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano has proposed.

“The costs of the Real ID Act are profound. Most states don’t have the money to implement it. If that obstacle is not there, we can look at it,” the governor replied.

In response to a question about race relations in the US, Patrick, the second African-American governor in US history, acknowledged, “America did not change because of Obama’s election – or mine.” But he went on to say that young black Americans already think differently about themselves as a result of such elections.

At the conference’s end, the governor, who will run for reelection in 2010, suggested meeting again, perhaps quarterly, with ethnic media.

He also welcomed a suggestion of Polish White Eagle co-publisher Marcin Bolec that his office have an ethnic-media liaison to communicate on issues specific to the journalists’ communities.

When Bolec added that the liaison would be on a volunteer basis, Gov. Patrick laughed with delight. Faced with a dismal economy and revenue setbacks for the state, he joked, “I appreciate that part!”

Following are highlights of Gov. Patrick’s responses to questions at the press conference:


Patrick said that immigration reform, which would help Massachusetts, must include a path to citizenship for those who have been in the US “for generations.” Taking people “out of the shadows” of being undocumented would help the local economy and would provide a new stream of tax revenue.

Bilingual Education

“Of the countries I have visited, America is the only one where speaking only one language is considered a good thing.” For Patrick, Question 2 (a 2002 ballot initiative that rescinded the method of bilingual education in Massachusetts) points in the wrong direction. He added that he admires immigrant students who grasp the language and succeed in this country.

In-State Tuition

Declaring himself a “great believer” in in-state tuition for undocumented students, Patrick said his administration looked hard at ways to allow this benefit without having to go through the legislative process, such as by passing an executive order. But “we could not do it without the legislature running afoul.” The governor said the legislature has its hand full with other projects, but the issue would be put forward by the end of June.

Sales Tax

“Our approach is to raise revenue for specific needs, not to fund the status quo.” Patrick said he is against increasing the state’s sales tax, and highlighted that his administration must be disciplined about how to use the public’s money.

Economy and Small Business

The governor explained that President Obama’s economic stimulus package brings little money to small business, most of it going to the clean technology sector. But he asked for support for a new project that will create 10,000 summer jobs for youth and young adults that can become permanent positions.

What Patrick Has Learned About the Latino Community

“The Latino community is probably the most entrepreneurial in the entire country. Massachusetts’ population is more entrepreneurial than in most parts of the county.” The governor said Latinos should have more access to capital and coaching – many of them have become successful entrepreneurs in niche businesses. In addition, he said he has noticed a huge sensitivity among Latinos about immigration issues, even among those who are US citizens. “I know they feel sad because of the lack of alignment of our laws with our values,” Patrick concluded.