By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Fake outrage over a non-issue

The talk shows are already going nuts over Gov. Deval Patrick’s statement that he may issue an executive order allowing illegal immigrants who live in Massachusetts to pay the in-state tuition rate at public colleges or universities (Globe story here; Herald story here).

But Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, appearing this morning on Tom Finneran’s show on WRKO (AM 680), said at least twice that such immigrants would be eligible only if they can document that they are in the process of seeking legal status. He also said there would only be about 400 or 500 eligible kids.

Not a big deal. Then again, we already know that anger over illegal immigration is one of those phony issues that doesn’t extend much beyond Talk Show Nation. Just ask Mitt Romney how his tough-guy talk played in Iowa and New Hampshire.

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  1. aging cynic

    All due respect Dan, not so sure this is a non-issue. Say you’re right and the numbers are relatively inconsequental. You still have legal residents hearing from the media that the economy is imploding and their safety is in doubt. Frightened people aren’t particularly empathetic unless they rally around a charismatic leader. Has Deval proven to be that leader? Maybe, but much of his political capital has eroded over the past year. Many will see his method as an arrogant end-run around the established process. If history is any judge, the devil is in the details. I foresee much parsing of “in the process of seeking legal status”. He may only succeed in rendering himself even less popular than the legislature, most of which has a keen interest in self-preservation. If a Republican is a bum for not getting more accomplished in (Blue)MA, what does that make a Democrat with the same results?

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Setting tuition rates is a matter of policy. I assume this issue ended up before the Legislature previously because Mitt Romney was against it. But it certainly strikes me as something well within the purview of the governor’s office.

  3. Berto

    I think an executive order is exactly the right way to go about this. The increasing shrillness and utter lack of coherence of the anti-immigrant crowd stuns me. If your major concern about illegal immigrants is crime, and you understand that education is the best way to keep people from a life of crime, wouldn’t you WANT the children of illegal immigrants to get an education? Why would you want to stop anything that could help make people who are down on their luck into more viable members of society.And honestly, whay are there quota laws for the borders to begin with? Instead of buying more guns and building walls that don’t work (I believe a schematic of a ladder has made it’s way south of the border), let’s instead buy more computers and hire more people to process applications faster. Do a background check on new immigrants, give them a social security and tax ID number, and send them on their way. Because I’ll bet you anything that given the choice, most people who came here illegally would have filed for legal papers if the process took less than 10-20 years to complete. Seriously: Would you risk living in the shadows for the rest of your life if instead you could be a legal resident after a three-month application process?

  4. Anonymous

    Dan – you underestimate the anger over this. Look at the exit polling for the GOP primary in NH. Immigration not only tied with Iraq as the issue most important to NH GOP primary voters, but 50%, again FIFTY PERCENT, of GOP primary voters said the best way to handle illegals was to “deport them”. Of those who said we should deport them. Romney beat McCain 40%-26%.'s a lot more to this than you think.

  5. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 11:53: You may have missed this, but McCain won the New Hampshire primary. Conservative Republicans are very angry about illegal immigration, but no one else cares. Even on talk radio, the callers get very excited, but the listeners change stations.

  6. aging cynic

    Dan,YOU may have missed this but that leaves 48 states. “No one else cares”? Oh really? Suddenly MA is a good representative of the American voter? If Deval wants to do this the hard way, he better hope that President Obama wants him in Washington because the Democratic buyer’s remorse out there is palpable. A year is about as long as honeymoons get. At some point he’s going to have to actually do something. Pissing off the gatekeepers is a lousy first step.

  7. O-FISH-L

    Yeah right, Dan. Only conservative Republicans are angry about illegal immigration. Pass the Dos Equis!That’s why Hillary Clinton, after being heavily criticized within her own party for trying to have it both ways on driver’s licenses for illegal aliens, said this:”As president, I will not support driver’s licenses for undocumented people and will press for comprehensive immigration reform that deals with all of the issues around illegal immigration including border security and fixing our broken system.”She must have been trying to get those angry conservative Republicans and those annoying talk-show callers to take a Democrat ballot in the primaries. Not! You may have missed it, but with her tough-guy (gal) talk on immigration, Hillary won NH.

  8. jvwalt

    If I may presume to speak on behalf of Dan, his point is not that NOBODY cares about immigration and border security. It’s that the issue is not nearly as important as the pundits thought it would be, or as the Howie Carrs and Lou Dobbses of the world want it to be. To me, 50% of GOP voters is a surprisingly low figure. Unless there’s equal outrage among liberal voters, that means immigration might have an impact on the Republican race, but is likely to be a nonfactor (or even a net loser) in the general election. It’s also very surprising that 26% of those who want to deport all illegals would go out and vote for McCain — the least doctrinaire of the Republicans on this issue. It appears that even a sizeable minority of the anti-immigrant vote considers other issues to be much more important.

  9. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: You’ve got to be the only person on the planet who thinks Clinton won N.H. because she’s tougher on illegal immigration than Obama.

  10. Cranky

    Can’t liberals (of which i generally consider myself) ever learn that it’s just these kind of soundbites that the Republican’s are masters at turning into huge campaign issues. We may look deeper into the details of the issue and realize that it’s a “non-issue”, but meanwhile the Republican’s will be working up their next campaign ad with Deval and Obama together under a big headline “Support Tuition Breaks for ILLEGAL Immigrants”

  11. Anonymous

    80 percent of ALL AMERICANS DO NOT support AMNESTY!

  12. Berto

    Cranky: Let them run their ads. Then maybe the Democrats can run an ad featuring film of the shameful New Bedford raid, and children crying because their mothers and fathers were locked away and no one could figure out how to help the kids. Imagine the kids crying, and the voiceover asking why Mitt Romney wants to tear families apart to score political points. Here’s the footage you could play. Skip to about 45 seconds in and use the video and audio of the breast-fed baby who’s mom was swept up in the raid. and Thompson are the last of the “round ’em up” candidates, thankfully, but I’d put this ad against anything they’d throw up on the issue.

  13. Scott Allen Miller

    We call this the nose under the camel’s tent. After the “reform” doesn’t work because the Globe reports that it’s still barring far too many 23 year-old “children” from getting a tuition break, Kay Kahn will file a bill to apply it to all illegal immigrants. So a kid from Nashua whose dad works in Boston and pays taxes in MA would pay out-of-state tuition, but the child of an illegal immigrant living in MA who doesn’t pay income tax because he is on the cash-only underground economy can get in-state tuition.Yeah, that’s a “non-issue”. I bet Mike Huckabee wishes it was a “non-issue”.

  14. Dan Kennedy

    Scott: I guess you don’t think it’s a big deal, either, if you have to make up a fantasy about what might happen down the line. Here’s what you and others don’t get about the politics of this. There isn’t a single vote a Democratic candidate can gain by pandering to the anti-illegal-immigrant crowd. It’s not that no one cares. It’s that no one cares outside the conservative Republican base.

  15. Anonymous

    Yikes, Dan. I have always been a big fan, but your flippant, dismissive attitude towards an issue which many consider to be one of THE definitive issues of the times is appalling. How can you thoughtfully critique so many current affairs and then throw ILLEGAL IMMIGRATION out the window? Very, very strange.

  16. Dan Kennedy

    Question for the Brain Trust: Somewhere a few months ago I remember either reading or hearing that illegal immigration as a political issue came right out of a Republican strategy memo somewhere. The idea was that the issue had been a complete failure in terms of beating Democrats, but that it had so fired up the base that now Republicans were stuck with it. Does anyone recall this? And Anon 4:31: Sorry to be dismissive, but my lack of interest in this issue is perfectly consistent with my values and outlook. Ideally, I’d like to see completely open borders, though I realize that’s not practical.

  17. Anonymous

    Dan, respectfully, may I suggest it’s also consistent with your socioeconomic status? Your job isn’t threatened by an illegal willing to do it for less.I didn’t get the immigration thing until my (more perceptive) wife pointed out this fairly obvious fact: It ain’t endangering my job. In fact, there’s a serious undercurrent in the black community of anti-imigration because, duh, it’s proportionally more economically threatening to urban blacks than to suburban whites like you and I. Republicans are whipping it up for less savory reasons, but there’re plenty of blue-collar folks who feel personally threatened – even when they’re conflating illegals working here with people overseas doing formerly American factory work. And that’s not mentioning those who seem to genuinely worry about national security by letting no-one-knows-who into the country under cover of darkness. That seems to be the phonier issue, but, well, it is until something happens, I guess.I agree: open borders is the ideal. But we might be like Poppy Bush and the grocery scanner here – kinda sorta outta touch with a chunk of the real world.

  18. Don, American

    Pretty popular for a non-issue.

  19. Anonymous

    This is the second most stupid issue since the drivers’ licence issue. Illegal/undocumented immigrants residing in MA pay state taxes. They pay sales taxes. They pay meals taxes. They pay state excise taxes. They (directly or indirectly) pay property taxes. They may even pay state income taxes–if their employers do their withholding obligation (and if the employers do not, it is the employers that you should go after).So why should they not get the benefit of in-state tuition rates? They’ve paid their taxes. To the state.–raj

  20. Anonymous

    Oh, and one more point.The “talent” on these talk shows are merely the filler between the commercials. It’s the advertisers who are paying the bills, and they usually don’t pay any attention to what’s in between, as long as the filler gets people to stay around to listen to their commercials.That’s from the Wall Street Journal from 20 years ago.-raj

  21. Anonymous

    “Sorry to be dismissive, but my lack of interest in this issue is perfectly consistent with my values and outlook. Ideally, I’d like to see completely open borders, though I realize that’s not practical.””Open borders is the ideal”? Wow, I have wandered into a roomful of folks with radically different notions of a nation-state than I hold. Surprising, considering that I agree with most of what I read on this board. Dan, can you conquer your disinterest enough just to explain what your values and outlook are that explain such a radical opinion? Have you really thought through the implications of this idea and the outcomes still appear desirable to you?

  22. O-FISH-L

    Excuse me Dan. If you can postulate that Romney’s “tough talk” on immigration didn’t help him in IA and NH, pardon me for pointing out that Hillary’s newly toughened stance on driver’s licenses for illegals didn’t hurt her in NH.I never said she won BECAUSE of her newly toughened stance. I merely pointed out that she toughened her stance and won. Lastly, if illegal immigration is only of concern to conservative Republicans and angry talk-show callers, why did Hillary feel the need to toughen her position now? Did she miss your memo that this is a non-issue, Dan?

  23. Steve

    Dan – there’s this, from May 2006. I’m not sure it says what you describe.”Republican candidates succeed when they support taking action on immigration. Our poll tested a number of messages, and found candidates who talk about comprehensive reform are more successful than those who focus only on border security. For example, a candidate using comprehensive reform language wins 71%—including 52% of Republicans—when matched against a seal-the-border candidate. * Candidate A “who only supports sealing off the border, stopping illegal immigrants from entering the country, and imposing criminal penalties on immigrants already here” * Candidate B “who supports comprehensive immigration reform that would beef up border security, enforce laws against companies that hire illegals and creates a temporary worker program that would allow immigrants to work here for a set period of time so long as they register, pay taxes, obey the law, and return home when their permit expires.” 25% are more likely to support Candidate A71% are more likely to support Candidate B”

  24. Anonymous

    **we already know that anger over illegal immigration is one of those phony issues**We do…?Who’s the “we”? (Or are you simply speaking for yourself?)WHo says it’s a “phoney issue”?Maybe you’re just hanging around thw rong people.

  25. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: Indeed she did miss my memo. To her detriment!

  26. Steve

    Dan – yeah, I figured it would be later than the ’06 cycle. Haven’t found anything yet. Here’s an interesting Google News Archive search, though. (An interesting search mode, but no interesting results, I think.)On the issue, sometimes I think we’re in a different country up here in New England. I get the feeling this is a much bigger issue nationally, but living here, we don’t really hear it. Just a feeling – no data to back it up.

  27. Anonymous

    << anonymous said…This is the second most stupid issue since the drivers’ licence issue. Illegal/undocumented immigrants residing in MA pay state taxes. They pay sales taxes. They pay meals taxes. They pay state excise taxes. They (directly or indirectly) pay property taxes. They may even pay state income taxes–>>I live in Winchester NH and work in Springfield. I pay all of the above taxes. Why doesn’t my daughter qualify for in-state resident tuition at UMass? Better than that. All those out-of-state college students who register to vote at their MA college address….doesn’t that make them MA residents? Shouldn’t those that go to a state school get a break?

  28. Rick in Duxbury

    “sometimes I think we’re in a different country up here in New England”. Absolutely, Steve. That’s why the Manhattan-centric media continues to miss the broader American zeitgeist. The old “nobody I know voted for Bush. How could he win?” issue. Those of us who actually leave the Northeast on occasion hear this all the time. Anecdotal, yes, but LOTS of anecdotes. Results-oriented guys like Rove and Carville, whose livelihoods are based on results, are happy to be the purveyors of a scarce commodity.

  29. Peter Porcupine

    DK – a little history about the legislation that was voted down.There was no age limit – if you were 35, and had been brought here by your parents, and wanted to take courses at UMass, you got the in-state rate. Also – there was nothing preventing illegal immigrants from attending the state colleges – they just didn’t get the tuition break granted to legal citizens. They could still attend. An early provision called for an affadavit to be signed that you would someday, somehow apply for legal residency, but it was struck from the final version. This was not a partisan issue – the votes against were 96, and that wasn’t all 16 Republicans, some of whom voted to pass.Secondly – FEDERAL law says that if you give in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens – no matter how they came to acquire that status, be it being brought here by your parents or arriving under your own steam – then you may not charge a higher rate to any other state. It would cost the UMass system millions in out-of-state tuition dollars, leaving the school with two options – a bigger subsidy from the legislature, or a higher tuition for all students.This is why it was voted down. It hurt the kids of blue collar workers by costing them either more tuition or more taxes. The Legislature was representing its constituency – Gov. Patrick seems intent on reminding us all that he is boss, and will shove this down the throat of every tradesperson being underbid by firms using illegal aliens in the state.And, my favorite comment during the debate came from Rep. Marie Parente. She said, “Lemme get this straight. We tolerate all these illegal immigrants, because they’re here doing the jobs we don’t want. So now you want to give them cheaper college educations so they can go after the jobs we DO want, too?” This may make the argument a little more germane to your ‘socio-economic’ class.And Berto? That raid was executed under the draconian Patrick administration.

  30. Dan Kennedy

    PP: I would be fine with requiring illegal immigrants to present real proof that they are seeking legal status. It doesn’t make sense to give them a break on tuition if they’re in danger of being deported.

  31. Anonymous poll has 90% against in state tuition and I read three colums and two stories about it. But it must be fake outrage because….. Dan says so?

  32. Dan Kennedy

    Anon 8:22: You’re wrong. is not running a poll. Do you know what a poll is? Thanks for pointing me to it. I just voted twice — one “yes,” one “no.” Very scientific!

  33. Anonymous

    anonymous @ 10:49 PMwrote “I live in Winchester NH and work in Springfield. I pay all of the above taxes.”you really do need to learn to read in context. You left out one important fact: you choose not to be a MA resident. The issue regarding taxes is a response to right-wing talk radio hosts’ going bananas over their fantasy that illegal/undocumented aliens who reside in MA do not pay taxes. If you want yourself or your children to get in-state tuition, move to MA. BTW, unlike you, I identify myself in every comment. See below. I’ve used virtually the same identifier on the Internet over the last ten years–raj

  34. Anonymous

    So the opinion pieces and the stories are fake outrage? The WBZ page question is just as valid as the “polls” conducted by the “experts” 90% to 10% with a margin of error for people who waste time (or try to prove their point) by voting twice or three times is still pretty solid public opinion.But what do I know? You are the know it all.

  35. Anonymous

    While I don’t think the in-state tuition issue has any real imapct on anyone’s life except those who would receive the benefit, I do believe this is the type of issue the GOP can exploit to make political hay, as it portrays liberals as far outside of mainstream thought. I’m fairly liberal on immigration policy, but I think it’s common sense that a child of an illegal alien should not receive a benefit not offered to a child of a legal resident of another state. Ignore the pandering aspect and it’s hard to deny the conservatives have this one right.Bob in Peabody

  36. Dan Kennedy

    Bob: On the one hand, we have an illegal immigrant who was brought to this country by his parents when he was little, who has attended and graduated from Massachusetts schools, and who can show documentation that he is seeking legal status. Why should he not be able to get in-state tuition?On the other hand, we have a U.S. citizen who lives in New Hampshire, and who can take advantage of in-state tuition to attend one of that state’s excellent public colleges and universities. Why should he also be able to get in-state tuition in Massachusetts?

  37. O-FISH-L

    UMass and the other state colleges should be forced to turn over to ICE the name and address of every illegal alien applying for this benefit, or else the Commonwealth should lose all federal aid. Not just aid to education, but highway funds, CDBGs, everything.If a person is not a legal resident of the United States, how can he/she be a legal resident of one of its politcal subdivisions? These illegals are essentially squatting in our state and should not be rewarded for their criminal conduct. What’s next, illegals using our ER’s for their free primary health care?

  38. Peter Porcupine

    DK – Please be aware. While the ‘little child’ argument is often trotted out by proponents, there was never any age limit or length of illegal residency – say, 15-18 yrs. – in the legislation. Just needed a GED or US diploma – again, could have arrived at age 17 and enrolled – to qualify for UMass. And we do live in an era of life-long learning, do we not? A 35 yr. old, arrived a month ago, who got a GED would qualify for the benefit.

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