At Our Shared Table, a moment to give thanks – and a call to action

Hundreds of immigrants, refugees, advocates and public officials gathered for ‘one of the best things done at the State House’ – a Thanksgiving meal together.

Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry, our emcee, spoke about her experience as the child of Haitian immigrants.

BOSTON, November 21, 2017  “I stand before you as a child of immigrants,” Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry said as she welcomed guests to Our Shared Table, MIRA’s 13th annual Thanksgiving luncheon at the State House, on Tuesday.

Like so many in the room, her parents came looking for a better life and new opportunities. They came from Haiti, but one of the great things about this country is that it doesn’t matter where you come from, she said. “When we come to these shores, we are all Americans.”

MIRA hosts Our Shared Table as a way to bring together immigrants and refugees – including newly sworn-in U.S. citizens – with public officials and advocates, providing a warm and friendly setting to get to know one another, share stories and find common ground.

“It’s one of the best things done at the State House,” said, Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, chairman of the Joint Committee on Ways and Means. “Let’s be real: We’ve got to talk, and if we want to talk, we’ve got to get together like this.”

Front of mind for all was the end of Temporary Protected Status for about 58,000 Haitians, announced the night before, which will affected almost 5,000 Massachusetts residents and their families. Speakers at the event strongly condemned the decision, noting that Haiti remains a deeply troubled country, and they vowed to fight to ensure that Haitians can stay legally in the U.S.

“You have the full commitment of my office in this fight ahead,” said Attorney General Maura Healey, who called the TPS termination cruel, “not who we are,” and “un-American.”

State Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the Baker administration is “committed to ensuring that all newcomers, immigrants and refugees, have all the same rights as people who are citizens.” The task now is to find a solution for Haitians, she added: “We have 18 months to get this right.”

Sister Marie-Judith Dupuy, director of the Haitian Apostolate of the Diocese of Worcester and a fierce advocate for people with TPS, said forcing 58,000 people to go back to Haiti "would be unfair, unjust, and just sending us into the mouth of the lion.”

She urged all in the room to fight for legislation to allow TPS holders to obtain permanent residency, not only because of conditions in Haiti, but because “we want to stay in this land of opportunity.”

“I am grateful for all of you, because in these turbulent times, you have shown what Massachusetts is made of, and given us strength and hope,” MIRA Executive Director Eva Millona told the audience.

Emerson College President M. Lee Pelton, the keynote speaker, focused his remarks on another large group of immigrants whose legal status is in peril: “Dreamers.”

“Every young person born, raised and educated at secondary schools in the United States, documented or not, deserves to attend college if she or he wishes, so they might become contributing members of our wonderfully and increasingly diverse society,” he said.

Paola Sánchez, who came to the U.S. from Bolivia at age 14, and has worked full-time to support herself and her mom and sisters back home since she was a teenager, shared her own story and her growing fears with the termination of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

She’s studying full-time at MassBay Community College while working 30 hours a week and caring for her 4-year-old son, and sees her story as proof that “it is always possible if you really want to do it.” But now, “my future and my family’s future is very uncertain.”

“We need your help,” she pleaded, her eyes tearing up.

Tom Perez, the National Democratic Chairman and former U.S. Labor Secretary, honored his niece Analisa Smith-Perez, who passed away last year. “She lived her life with a sense of urgency,” he said, always trying to make the world a better place. Her path brought her to MIRA twice, first as an intern and then a lawyer in the justice AmeriCorps program for unaccompanied minors.

In her memory, the Perez family established the new Young Champion of Justice award, which he presented to Lily Huang, co-chair of Massachusetts Jobs With Justice.

A daughter of Chinese immigrants, Huang contrasted her happy memories of Thanksgiving with her family, eating turkey stuffed with Chinese sticky rice, with the plight of families separated by unjust work conditions and cruel immigration policies.

“No one should not live in fear of bad bosses, retaliation, ICE, detention and deportation,” she said. “But we ​know, we feel, we hear and see that ​they are. This is a crisis moment.” So as we celebrate the holiday with loved ones, she added, “recognize those who can't, and​ ​remember the migrant farmworkers who picked our vegetables, and immigrant workers… and let’s all re-commit to fighting for justice today and every day.”

Read coverage of the event in the Boston Globe

Donate to Our Shared Table 2017

Lily Huang, co-chair of Massachusetts Jobs With Justice, laughs with Democratic National Chairman Tom Perez and his family after receiving the Young Champion of Justice award, in memory of Analisa Smith-Perez.