Immigrants express frustration with Beacon Hill
At a rally outside the State House in support of immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador and other countries facing deportation because of actions taken by President Donald Trump, some community leaders said it was not enough for Beacon Hill politicians to offer their rhetorical support.
"This is a call for the leadership of the Democratic Party in Massachusetts. You have to do more, you have to do something for the immigrant community, and now is the time," said Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente.
Even U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern, a Worcester Democrat, said Beacon Hill should pass legislation known as the Safe Communities Act.
"As we try to work out things on the federal level, the state has to step up here. They ought to pass the Safe Communities Act. I'm not in the state legislature but we need to take steps locally and statewide that provide a circle of protection for these people until we can straighten out the mess in Washington," McGovern said.
The rally took place a week after House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he did not envision bringing the Safe Communities Act to the House floor for a vote because he said there was no consensus in the body. That bill, which was reworked by its sponsors to win the support of several police organizations, would restrict cooperation between local police and federal immigration agents to avoid targeting law-abiding residents.
Trump on Friday announced his decision to end temporary protective status, or TPS, for the roughly 60,000 people from Honduras living in the United States. Those immigrants will have 18 months to return to their country of origin, or face deportation. The Trump administration has also ended TPS for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan and Nicaragua, decisions that speakers on Monday called "cruel."
Montes, who organized the rally headlined by U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy, came to the United States from Honduras. In her opinion, she said Massachusetts "is not a progressive state when we talk about immigration."
In addition to Safe Communities, she asked state lawmakers to pass a resolution condemning human rights violations in Honduras, and she called for the immediate end to U.S. military aid to the Honduran government.
"If we stay silent, we are part of the problem," she said.
Patricia Carbajal, a single mother who works in construction and has lived in Massachusetts for 20 years with TPS from Honduras, said she fears returning to her country where violence is prevalent and where she has no home. "We came here to work and to give our kids better lives," she said, as her 4-year-old daughter Camila clung to her leg. "Donald Trump is leaving us homeless."
Jose Palma, a another TPS beneficiary from El Salvador, said he has three U.S.-born children, including a son who will soon have to choose whether to apply to college here or return with him to a country he has never visited. He has lived in the Massachusetts for more than 20 years, but now has until Sept. 9, 2019 to become documented.
Palma, who is a member of the Massachusetts TPS Committee, brought up DeLeo's reluctance to call a vote on the Safe Communities Act, noting that Democrats have supermajorities in both the House and Senate.
"That should be not acceptable in Massachusetts at this time...," Palma said. "It's not enough to say the governor is not taking action. Democrats in Massachusetts should be taking action. It is time to take action. Real, real action."
'The time has come'
While McGovern and Kennedy attended the rally, Palma said the Massachusetts TPS Committee has been trying unsuccessfully to get a meeting with U.S. Reps. Steve Lynch of South Boston and William Keating of Bourne.
McGovern, who helped write the TPS law as an aide to the late Congressman Joe Moakley, said history would not look kindly on decisions to return law-abiding citizens to countries like El Salvador and Honduras where violence and poverty has not improved since refugees were first extended TPS status.
Still, he painted a bleak picture for progress in Congress where he said GOP leadership in the House was blocking all votes to extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and TPS, and the White House has rejected all proposals from Democrats on a comprehensive immigration deal that would give TPS recipients a path to citizenship.
"In the short term in Washington, the reality is difficult. It's hard to see immediate relief on the way...," McGovern said. "So here's the deal, we got to work hard to change the reality in November because then we can control the legislative agenda."
Kennedy said he and other members of the delegation like McGovern would continue fighting on behalf of immigrant communities in Massachusetts. "Although this administration has lost sight of the American Dream, it does not mean America has as well," Kennedy said.
Other officials at the rally included Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, Boston City Councilors Josh Zakim and Ayanna Pressley, who are both running for new offices, and state Reps. Adrian Madaro of East Boston, Mike Connolly of Cambridge and Christine Barber of Somerville.
Madaro said the loss of TPS status for thousands of Hondurans and Salvadoran living in East Boston would mean the closing of immigrant-owned businesses, a loss of jobs and an increase in home foreclosures. Madaro said he had traveled to both countries with Montes to see the conditions.
"These are not places that are ready to accept hundreds of thousands back into their countries," he said.
Connolly recalled a pro-immigration rally across the street in the Boston Common shortly after he was sworn into office in 2017.
"I pledged at that moment I would do anything I could to pass the Safe Communities Act, I would do anything that was within my power to help immigrants and refugees in our community and the sad fact is we have to do a lot more," Connolly said.
"The time has come for us to pass something to support our immigrant community," he said.
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