Immigration a hot topic in gov. candidate forum

Roxbury Community College (RCC) held a governor candidate forum last month where the two frontrunners for the Democratic nomination sparred over immigration.

State Treasurer Steve Grossman attacked state Attorney General Martha Coakley over her views on that subject, including her former support for Secure Communities, a federal program that relies on local and state law enforcement for help on deporting undocumented immigrants.

The forum featured five candidates for governor: Democrats Coakely, Grossman and Don Berwick; independent Jeff McCormick; and United Independent Evan Falchuk. About 150 people attended the July 16 event that was sponsored by SkillWorks, The Boston Foundation and other organizations.

When the topic of immigration came up at the forum, Grossman pounced on Coakley for being for Secure Communities before being against it. He said that the program “tears families apart.” Grossman said that Coakley has taken positions that were “hostile to immigrants.”

He also criticized Coakley for not supporting issuing state driving licenses to undocumented immigrants. Grossman said he “fully supports” doing so because he wants people on the roads to have driver education and to have insurance.

Coakley replied that she “had been a champion of Secure Communities.” She noted that it was supported by former Mayor Thomas Menino and former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis, who thought it ensured “the worst of the worst were removed” from the community.

“That is what I supported,” she said.

But, Coakley added, if Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone and others now think that the program no longer protects their communities, then, “I don’t support it.”

She said she does oppose issuing driving licenses to undocumented immigrants, as there is “no federal solution.” But, Coakley said, she is keeping an “open mind” on other strategies, such as copying other states’ solutions.

“You continue to mistake my position,” said Coakley.

The other candidates expressed pro-immigrant views, including Berwick. He said that it is a “human rights issue” and that immigrants are who “built our country.”

Falchuk and McCormick spent much of the forum introducing themselves to voters. Falchuk said he founded the United Independent Party because he is “tired of the political establishment  that doesn’t take voters and their concerns as seriously as they should.”

McCormick talked about his business experience and his 27 years building companies as a venture capitalist, saying “I’ve built thousands of jobs.”

The candidates also repeatedly discussed the need to build and strengthen partnerships between colleges and private businesses, especially at the community college level.

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