Throughout history, people have gathered together in communities for safety. In colonial America, villages formed to provide protection from attacks by Native Americans, for fire protection, and to maintain common property. Today, despite the best efforts of police and fire personnel, boards of health and building inspectors, communities can be more secure it they are given support from their state and national governments.
Rep. John V. Fernandes (D-Milford) and I have understood, for some time, that we could help the local officials in the towns that we represent by strengthening state laws and cooperating with federal programs designed to provide more effective tools for providing greater safety for our citizens. We have been among the legislators leading efforts to improve public safety with more effective penalties for those who do not obey the law whether they were born in America or came here to live from another country.
The recent tragic death of a young Milford resident - Matthew Denice - who, according to police reports, was killed by an illegal alien driving under the influence and without a license has caused us, and several other legislative colleagues, to step up our efforts to promote safer communities. We have drafted and filed a bipartisan, bicameral bill to enhance community safety.
Joining with Fernandes and me as primary sponsors of this comprehensive effort to improve public safety are Senate Republican leader Sen. Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester) and Rep. George Peterson (R-Grafton) along with other members of the House Republican leadership.
It is a bill that is sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans, state senators and state representatives. If we are ever to address this issue in Massachusetts and in our country, it will take lawmakers working together across the political aisles with the support of all of our constituents.
The bill does direct the state's Executive Office of Public Safety to report to the Legislature on any technical or other barriers that would prevent law enforcement agencies from fully utilizing the federal government's "Secure Communities" program. It will also increase the penalties for driving without a license or allowing an unlicensed person to operate a vehicle up to, and including, forfeiture of the vehicle. These increased penalties would apply to anyone illegally operating a motor vehicle, not just people who are not legally present in this country.
There are significant provisions in the bill aimed at preventing anyone from gaining access to public benefits such as food stamps, housing assistance, educational aid, or employment unless they are entitled to do so as citizens or legally present with the appropriate visas. In addition, those who employ illegal aliens would be barred from state contracts and would be required to verify the legal status of those they might hire. The bill is now being circulated among our legislative colleagues to see if additional legislators would be willing to join us as co-sponsors, and we will do all that we can to gain passage in the coming months. We hope that many residents will join us in support as well.
In the long run, the problem of illegal immigration - a problem faced by developed nations in Europe as well as the United States - needs to be addressed at the national level. The United States must establish and enforce an immigration reform law, and that's a job that the President and Congress must perform. Of course, if other nations provided more economic opportunities for their citizens and guaranteed the same freedoms that we enjoy in America, we could expect that more people would want to stay home or, at least, return home within the time allowed for visiting us legally.
Sen. Richard T. Moore represents the 14 towns of the Worcester and Norfolk Senatorial district. To keep up with his work, visit, www.senatormoore.com