Tuesday, November 01, 2005

In 2006, Will it Be Insurance or Immigration?

While the health insurance bill (pdf) is probably the most important thing the Legislature will act on this year, unless there is some great disaster, I don't anticipate it will be a big issue in 2006. The House version of the bill is nearly 80 pages long, and I would be surprised if every legislator had read and understood the whole thing by the time it becomes law, let alone the general public. Health Care is one of those issues where (nearly) everyone is dissatisfied with the current system, but if you get into the details with someone, their eyes glaze over. At the same time, the 2006 election may be too early to judge whether the new system is a success or failure. And don't get me wrong, we will be able to measure success, but I think that, in the end, the battle over insuring the uninsured is more of a policy battle than a political battle.

In terms of impact on election, I think we're going to hear a lot more noise about immigration, particularly if the bill that would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition to UMass passes. Today's Globe is reporting that Tom Reilly is backing it, as is fellow Democratic candidate Deval Patrick. This, along with marriage equality, is an easy-to-understand, visceral issue that takes no effort to have an opinion on. The state GOP has used this measure as a talking point before, accusing the Democrats in the Legislature of giving 'perks' to illegals. It's something that can be used to try to wedge away suburban or working class voters from the Democrats. It's also something, however, that if we work to explain why it's a good idea now, we can take steps to neutralize it as an election year issue.

Personally, I don't see the problem with allowing the children of undocumented immigrants who live in state to be charged in state tuition. We're mostly talking about children, the vast majority of whom were brought here by their parents, and we should not be punishing them for the fact that their parents skirted immigration law. In addition, many of these children have lived here since infancy and have never known their birth country -- it doesn't make sense to consider them residents of anyplace else than Massachusetts. The larger, and perhaps more frustrating issue, is that the state really doesn't have the power to do much to stop illegal immigration. You may remember earlier this year that some New Hampshire police officers tried to charge undocumented immigrants with criminal trespass. In August, that was ruled unconstitutional, and all charges were dismissed. That should make it clear that it is not the job of state and local officials to determine who is "supposed" to be in the country. Let the Feds decide who belongs in the country; in their absense, we should do what is right and give these kids, whose immigration status is largely beyond their control, a chance to succeed.