Ministers and Human Rights Leaders Condemn Abuse of Immigrants

11/7/2011 BOSTON — "Un-American, un-practical and un-godly," was how the Reverend Hurmon Hamilton, President of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization, characterized the attacks on immigrants that have occurred in Milford over the past few months, a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment that some lawmakers have exploited to propose "An Act to Enhance Community Safety," a sweeping set of anti-immigrant crackdowns today introduced to the judiciary committee on Beacon Hill.

Introduced as keynote speaker by Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), Reverend Hamilton joined a coalition of faith leaders and human rights activists who appealed for respectful treatment of all human beings, regardless of race, religion, or immigration status. The conference was a response to the mounting waves of anti-immigrant sentiment, sparked by the drunk-driving killing of Matthew Denice in Milford in August. In the weeks following, immigrants suffered beatings, house searches, racial-profiling arrests, and countless  verbal assault — acts further inflamed by media attacks and political grandstanding against undocumented immigrants. "Let Congress limit immigration, increase enforcement," granted Revered Hamilton. "But we must act with just and humane policies...Hatred of immigrants endangers the soul of America. I pray this treatment will end today."

The Reverend was followed by two Unitarian ministers who related stories collected from immigrants in Milford, reprinted below. Reverend Wendy von Zirpolo, Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Marblehead, also spoke of her own loss of a niece at the hands of a drunk driver — the root problem behind the tragedy in Milford. Reverend Terry Burke and Filipe Teixeira, in turn, spoke of the fear that suffuses immigrant communities and decreases the common safety of all, as crimes go unreported due to distrust of the police.

The ministers were followed by Joshua Rubenstein, Northeast Regional Director of Amnesty International USA, who decried public characterizations of immigrants.  "We are appalled at the demagogic appeals against immigrants around elections," Mr. Rubenstein said. "The US should be held to the same standard as the rest of the world. Other countries find themselves in an awkward position when newcomers cross their border because of war, disease, poverty, etc. We are wealthier than all these other countries and we should know better."

The conference was closed by Shannon Erwin, State Policy Director at MIRA, who spoke of the numerous provisions in the current bill that have nothing to do with increasing security, and completely miss the fundamental point that all immigrants, regardless of status, are less likely to commit crimes than native-born residents. "Nationwide between 1994 and 2005, at the same time as immigration was increasing, crime was decreasing, with over a third drop in violent crime and over a quarter drop in property crime," Ms. Erwin said. "The drop in crime was due in large part to the use of community policing initiatives. The success of these depend on the ability of immigrants to come forward and speak to police without fear, regardless of their immigration status. Despite the reality that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native born, many politicians still seek to score political points by drawing a false connection between immigrants, specifically the undocumented, and crime."

Ms. Erwin concluded, "It’s time for politicians to make a statement that this cruel behavior you’ve heard described today is unacceptable in the Commonwealth, and that all immigrants, regardless of status, are entitled to humane and dignified treatment."

Stories from Milford

Maria’s Story: A 32-year-old mother of three, Maria first suffered racial profiling a year before Matthew Denice’s death, when a state trooper looked at her through the window of his car, and pulled her over on 495 for no apparent reason. Eight months pregnant at the time, with a three-year-old in the back seat, Maria had her car impounded, and she and her child were left stranded in the towing lot. Then, a few weeks after Matthew’s tragic killing, she was walking with her five-year-old when a group of older teenagers started insulting her and her child. Maria didn’t understand, so it was up to her five-year-old to explain that the teens were calling them Latin trash. She couldn’t explain to her daughter why this was so, or why she was afraid to complain about the incident to the police. Anguished Ecuadorans have repeatedly asked the question of how they can explain to their children about the hateful words they hear from their neighbors when they venture out in public.

Augustin’s Story: In late October, Augustin was leaving a store near the fire station in Milford, which happens to be located near a bar frequented by Anglos. He was assaulted by a group of five or six young men, who said “F---ing Spic, this isn’t your land,” and pushed him against a wall. A Latina who viewed the incident counseled Augustin not to react, and he tried to maintain his composure. “I’ve been yelled at from passing cars, and I have gotten used to that,” said Augustin. “But being physically assaulted was new and upsetting.”

Matilda’s story:. Shortly after the death of Matthew Denice, Matilda (a pseudonym) had all the windows in her car smashed. In the police clamp down that followed the accident, Matilda and several others who suffered similar incidents decided not to go to police. “I have also felt a lot of hate on the streets towards us; some have been victims of cars speeding up as they cross intersections, and people throwing water and eggs at them. The police have been stopping Ecuadorians everywhere. I get very nervous and feel like I now risk myself everyday by driving to go to work, praying that I won’t be stopped and hoping to get back to my daughters.”  Maltida also notes that her cousin was also stopped by police and beaten, after which his head was left badly bloodied. Her cousin is too afraid to come forward and complain about the beating.

Mario’s Story: Mario went for a walk on September 2 with his wife and child in a stroller, and on Water Street, he was verbally assaulted by several youth in a passing vehicle. A few blocks later, on School Street, a different vehicle drove by and a water bottle was hurled at the family.

A Social Worker’s Story: A Guatemalan tells the story of working on a roofing site with some Americans and a few other Hispanics, when a police officer stopped his cruiser, and started to insult them, saying “Go home to your countries!” The Americans went down to talk to the police officer, and to ask why he was doing that. The policeman left without further incident. The Latinos felt that it was very surprising and confusing to be to be insulted like that by a policeman while working at a job that improves the community.

Juan’s Story: “My neighbors were never very nice with us,” says Juan (a pseudonym), “But ever since the accident, they have been throwing garbage and boxes onto our patio, on top of our cars, and inside our deck. They encouraged their dogs to bark at us when we were passing by, and for a few days they left their angry dog with our first floor neighbor tied to our deck, intimidating us every time we had to go in or out of our house.   Even their children, on several occasions, yelled at my wife and friends to ‘Get out of here!’ ’Go inside!’ NOTE: Juan complained to police about his neighbors’ actions during a housing inspection. The police spoke to the neighbors, and the situation has improved.

Miguel’s Story: Miguel (a pseudonym) was stopped in Milford and his out of state driver’s license was taken from him by the police. When Michael went back to the police station to get his license they said that they had lost it. NOTE: The police admitted that none of them had the right to retain or destroy any document unless they suspected that it could be invalid. If there are incidents like this they encouraged people to call the police and explain the issue, and the officer would receive the adequate discipline.


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