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Mass. Governor Walks A Tightrope On Trump's Immigration Issue

Aug 11, 2017
Originally published on August 11, 2017 5:59 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Massachusetts, the detention of an MIT janitor has Governor Charlie Baker in a kind of bind. The janitor is in the U.S. illegally, and his arrest comes as a result of the increased enforcement of President Trump's tough new immigration policy. Shannon Dooling of member station WBUR reports that Baker is a first-term Republican walking a tightrope in his Democratic-leaning state.

SHANNON DOOLING, BYLINE: The president says he's focused on deporting violent criminals and gang members, but there's also been an uptick in noncriminals arrested by federal immigration agents, people like 43-year-old Francisco Rodriguez.

FRANCISCO RODRIGUEZ: I'm focused on doing work and support for my family. I'm follow all the rules from the government, try to live, I would say, the American dream. I don't know. Now, it's a nightmare dream - something like that.

DOOLING: Rodriguez has been in federal custody for a month facing deportation. The MIT janitor is from El Salvador and is the father of three U.S.-born children. He entered the U.S. without authorization, but has been living in Massachusetts for 10 years. For much of that time, he wasn't at all a priority for deportation - until now. His story is getting the attention of the state's two Democratic U.S. senators, Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey. Both are calling for his release. Republican Governor Charlie Baker is taking a more measured stance.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHARLIE BAKER: I think the important issue for ICE is to focus on convicted and charged criminals. Based on what I've read, I don't think this gentleman meets that criteria.

DOOLING: A spokesperson for Baker says his office has conveyed the governor's concerns to federal immigration officials. But Baker has stopped short of asking for Rodriguez's release, and that probably shouldn't come as a surprise.

JEFF BERRY: Governor Baker is walking a tightrope on the immigration issue.

DOOLING: Jeff Berry is a professor of political science at Tufts University.

BERRY: He may even want to keep his fingers in national Republican Party politics. And the immigration story fits into that narrative.

DOOLING: A narrative that Baker, as a conservative at the helm of a liberal state, is continually trying to balance.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Hey, hey, ho, ho. Charlie Baker has got to go.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Hey, hey, ho, ho, Charlie Baker has got to go.

DOOLING: Protesters recorded by the news site MassLive recently spoke out when Baker waded into the national immigration conversation in a big way. A week or so after voicing concerns over Francisco Rodriguez's arrest, Baker filed new legislation that would allow state and local police to cooperate with federal immigration officials in the case of dangerous convicted criminals. Richard Tisei, a former Massachusetts Republican Senate minority leader, says that carefully crafted legislation, paired with Baker's comments on the Rodriguez case, shows Baker just doesn't really operate along traditional party lines.

RICHARD TISEI: I know a lot of Republicans who are upset with him right now on his immigration stance. And I know that there are a lot of left-wing organizations, too. And to me, that tells me that he's doing something right and looking at things in a nonpartisan manner.

DOOLING: And while Baker hopes to follow his moderate playbook all the way to re-election in 2018, the fierce debate over immigration could prove to be an all-or-nothing issue. For NPR News, I'm Shannon Dooling in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF JOACHIM KUHN NEW TRIO'S "TRANSMITTING") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.