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Deval Patrick calls for national dialogue on revamping immigration laws

Describing himself as “worried about this country,’’ Governor Deval Patrick called yesterday for a national conversation on changing immigration laws.

“I’m worried that we need to figure out a way to have a conversation about fixing our broken immigration rules and realities by turning to each other rather than on each other. I’m worried about that. And I want you to worry about it with me,’’ Patrick told a Radisson Hotel function room packed with many of Massachusetts’ highest-ranking Latino government officials and business leaders.

“I think we can model the notion of reform and inclusion that reflects our best values and not our fears. I think we can. Si se puede [Yes it is possible],’’ he continued. “But I think it requires courage. It requires a willingness to stand up in public and private places and call out hate for what it is, every time.’’

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Patrick has long been a vocal ally of the immigrant community - he insisted upon funding for a health care program for recent immigrants after lawmakers cut it in 2009 to balance the state budget and he has long supported offering in-state tuition rates and driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

But his comments take on added significance as President Obama’s reelection campaign gets underway, and with it, a quadrennial scramble for the Latino vote. Obama has put little effort into pushing for a wholesale refashioning of the country’s immigration laws, although he supported legislation that failed last year that would have granted permanent residency to certain children brought into the country by undocumented parents.

Patrick has also clashed with the Obama administration over a homeland security program aimed at cross-checking arrestees with immigration databases to weed out undocumented immigrants with serious criminal records.

Patrick has long argued that the program, Secure Communities, runs the risk of inadvertently netting immigrants who present no public safety threat and could promote profiling. Although Obama administration officials have acknowledged that they initially botched the rollout of the program, which is scheduled to become active nationwide in 2013, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has said it has been revamped to target immigrants with criminal records and could prevent the very issues Patrick has voiced.

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Patrick said yesterday that the challenges facing Americans have given an impression that “the American dream is up for grabs right now.’’