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opinion | Marcela Garcia

Charlie Baker’s immigration policies could help him

Charlie Baker, seen greeting people in Grace Church of All Nations in Boston on Sunday, has offered a milder tone on immigration issues.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

When it comes to immigration policy — and courting immigrant voters — Charlie Baker has an opportunity.

Consider Martha Coakley’s noncommittal answers on issues such as the Secure Communities program (which allows local police to check the immigration status of everyone arrested) and issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Her go-to “I’m open to it” line can be a turnoff. Meanwhile, Baker surprised some with his quick (if measured) support for housing migrant children from Central America in Cape Cod this summer.

Baker claims most of his positions have not changed since his 2010 run, which is semantically correct. But his gentler rhetoric in 2014, and the wiggle room he’s given himself on certain issues, are bound to resonate with certain voters.


Take in-state tuition: In 2010, Baker opposed granting lower resident tuition rates in state colleges and universities to undocumented students on the grounds that they couldn’t get a job after graduating because of their illegal status. But then the rules changed — and, apparently, so did Baker’s stance. In 2012, President Obama enacted a policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which allows some youths living in the country illegally to obtain work permits. Five months later, Governor Deval Patrick extended in-state tuition to DACA beneficiaries in Massachusetts.

Now, Baker says he’d continue to offer the tuition break to DACA recipients. “Yes, I would continue it,” he told me in a recent interview. “[I support in-state tuition] for people who can work here.”

On Secure Communities and licensing undocumented drivers, Baker walks the expected line, supporting the former and opposing the latter. Yet he also has toned down the rhetoric. “If Boston and Cambridge and Somerville want to [opt-out of Secure Communities], it’s up to them. I’d like to give local officials flexibility when I can,” he said. On driver’s licenses, he notes that “the vast majority of people you’re talking about here — outside of the fact that they’re here illegally — are trying to do the right thing.”


Indeed, Baker sounds a lot like Jeb Bush, a former Republican governor who’s moderate on immigration. “What currently goes on the state and local level around [immigration] is . . . heartbreaking,” Baker said. Immigrant communities all over the country are feeling a profound disappointment toward Obama — and frankly, both the Democrats and the GOP — for spectacularly failing to pass much-needed reform. And herein lies Baker’s opportunity: This independent vote is his to grab. He only needs to prove that his pragmatic approach to immigration is more than just sound bites.

Marcela García is a regular contributor to the Globe opinion pages. Follow her on Twitter @marcela_elisa.