Nearly a Thousand Immigrants Raise Voices at State House

Executive Vice-President of largest union in MA makes keynote speech at largest immigrant advocacy day of year

pledge44/9/2012 BOSTON -- "Brothers and sisters, we ARE the New America — and a new America that votes," said Veronica Turner-Biggs to over 600 immigrants packed into the Gardner Auditorium for the 16th annual Immigrants Day at the State House. As Executive Vice-Presdent of SEIU1199, the largest union in Massachusetts, Ms. Turner-Biggs fittingly offered the keynote address at the largest immigrant advocacy day of the year. Indeed, the day's gathering was so successful that an additional 300 immigrants gathered outside the auditorium  to rally in Nurse's Hall.

The first African-American woman to head a major union in Massachusetts, Ms Turner-Biggs focused on the event's theme, "Building Power Together."

"Together, our voices are stronger than they are alone," she said. "Together, we are building a stronger Commonwealth for everyone." She also emphasized the crucial importance of immigrants to the state's economy.  "YOU are what keeps the Commonwealth working. And our legislators need to know that they cannot take your vote for granted."

evaveronicaTo earn those votes, the day also featured short speeches from three candidates for the U.S. Senate. Attorney Marisa DeFranco emphasized her support for both immigration reform and a systemic re-evaluation of trade policies. Independent candidate Bill Cimbrello spoke about the many hurdles that the immigration system can raise. And Consumer Advocate Elizabeth Warren noted that immigration laws, like laws governing consumer protection, can seem tremendously difficult to change.  "How do you make something happen when you 're up against all the power and all of the money in the world?" She asked. "You get organized."

To that end, the event closed with individual visits by constituent groups to legislators' offices, asking for funding for English classes for speakers of other languages, citizenship preparation programs, domestic violence victim services, among others. Constituents also asked their legislators to support bills allowing greater flexibility in instruction to English Language Learner children, ensuring  temporary workers are properly informed of job assignments, and closing an age loophole that prevents abused youth from applying for status. Some of these issues were pointedly raised by immigrant guest speakers. Seema spoke about the long road of recovery from domestic violence, Manny Reynoso spoke of the importance of English classes for immigrants , and by Nicole Sammarco talked about becoming a newly naturalized citizen.

The ideal of unity — of building power together to improve everyone's lives— was emphasized by all the speakers, including MC Cheryl Clyburn Crawford, Co-Director of MassVote, State Senator Sal DiDomenico, who spoke touchingly of his grandfather's immigrant journey, and State Treasurer Steve Grossman, who noted that  "the story of immigrant entrepreneurship is the story of Massachusetts' success." In her opening remarks, Eva Millona, The Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, summed up the spirit of all the comments by noting, "we are truly building power together for the continued prosperity of all the residents of our great Commonwealth."