A show of strength – and a call to action at the State House

Alejandra St. GuillenAlejandra St. Guillen, director of the Boston Mayor’s Office for Immigrant Advancement, served as emcee. “Remember, this is your house,” she said – regardless of citizenship or immigration status.

The 22nd annual Immigrants’ Day at the State House was both a reckoning with the devastating impact of the Trump administration, and a reminder of the importance of state- and local-level action.

BOSTON, April 4, 2018 – The theme of the day was “Immigrants get the job done,” and dozens of black-and-orange posters offered proof in numbers.

1 in 5 workers in Massachusetts is an immigrant; 1 in 5 entrepreneurs, too; 59% of medical and life scientists. Immigrants in our state pay $8.4 billion in federal taxes each year, and $3.5 billion in state and local taxes. 7,100 workers are Salvadorans or Haitians with Temporary Protected Status.

And that’s just immigrants today. As Senate President Harriette Chandler put it, “Immigrants are not some other. Immigrants are us… Massachusetts has been built on the backs of immigrants from across the globe.”

This was the 22nd annual Immigrants’ Day at the State House, and the crowd that gathered in the Great Hall for the hour-long speaking program was as diverse as the Commonwealth’s immigrant communities. There were old-timers and recent arrivals, Chinese, Latinos, Africans, Indians and Europeans mixed together. Grassroots advocates, groups of students, and scores of allies.

In Washington, President Trump was preparing to send in the National Guard to prevent asylum-seekers from crossing the southern border. Many in the audience, and at least two of the speakers, are fighting for a future in the U.S. after policy changes that will strip them of their legal status.

Eva MillonaMIRA Executive Director Eva A. Millona urged legislators to act promptly to protect immigrants from an onslaught of hostile federal policies.

“We’ve lived through really tough times for immigrants… but I’ve never seen this much fear in our communities,” said MIRA Executive Director Eva A. Millona. And the fear is well founded: “People are being arrested who’ve done nothing wrong except working without proper papers. ICE is even arresting people at routine check-ins and green card interviews.”

Arrests of non-criminal immigrants in New England tripled in Trump’s first year in office, Millona noted. The federal government is pressuring police to aid in deportations. Yet with just a few months left in the legislative session, not a single measure has been passed to protect immigrants.

“Please don’t let this linger anymore,” Millona urged legislators. “Doing nothing to protect our communities is not an option.”

Millona also called for increased investment in English classes for adult immigrants, for which the waitlist now exceeds 16,000 people. And she celebrated victories, such as passage of the LOOK bill to end 15 years of English-only instruction in public schools, and progress on two additional bills to expand access to health care and dental care in underserved communities.

After the speaking program, many groups would be fanning out across the State House to meet with legislators and advocate for these and other legislative priorities.

Andrea Campbell, president of the Boston City Council, recognized the “tremendous amount of courage” that it took for immigrants to speak out and visit legislators in the current climate.

“I’m here to tell you: You matter,” she said. Public officials have a responsibility to serve their immigrant constituents even if they’re not U.S. citizens, she noted. Indeed, within the City Council, she has been looking at ways to make politics and policy-making in Boston more inclusive.

Secretary of State William Galvin and House Ways and Means Chairman Jeffrey Sanchez both made unscheduled appearances to encourage immigrants in the audience to make their voices heard. “I want you here. Massachusetts wants you here,” Galvin said.

Secretary Rosalin Acosta, of the Executive Office for Labor and Workforce Development, urged everyone in the room to vote: “At the end of the day, that is your most powerful tool to make your voice heard.” She also celebrated immigrants’ spirit, drawing on her personal experience of coming to the U.S. from Cuba with her family.

“There is one characteristic that distinguishes immigrants in the middle of the struggle – we are deeply optimistic,” she said.

José Palma, one of the leaders of the Massachusetts TPS Committee, also drew on his personal story, but to urge the audience to fight with him to enable TPS holders to stay in the U.S. after their protected status ends next year. Just the day before, he had marked 20 years in the U.S. He has worked, studied, been an advocate, and built a family with three children.

“Just think, you have been here for 20 years, doing everything you were told to do, and suddenly you’re told it’s over,” Palma said. “Imagine 10,000 people losing their jobs because of immigration status. Doesn’t that make you angry?” Our Congressional delegation needs to hear from you, he added.

Palloma Jovita, a senior at Framingham State University, intern at MIRA, also urged the audience to put pressure on Congress – to protect “Dreamers.”

“Don’t let my dreams be thrown away,” she said. “Please call your members of Congress and tell them, you can’t give up on DACA. It’s too important.”

Noting that she was only able to attend Framingham State because with DACA, she qualified for in-state tuition, Jovita also urged legislators to pass tuition equity legislation, which has stalled for years.

“You shouldn’t need DACA to get in-state tuition at a Massachusetts state college or university,” she said. “Education is one of the most important things we can have. No one in Massachusetts should be denied the right to have it.”

Palloma Jovita and Rep. Jack Lewis“Dreamer” Palloma Jovita visits the House Chamber for the first time in her life, invited by Rep. Jack Lewis, D–Framingham, whom she had visited to advocate for tuition equity legislation after her speech in the Great Hall.