New England "Keeping Families Together" Campaign Launched to Win Fundamental Immigration Reform in 2013

Immigrants share family stories and diverse allies express support at press event


February 5, 2013 BOSTON – Ever Barrera has a dream to serve his country, but yesterday at a Boston City Hall press conference, the Salvadoran immigrant said he couldn't prove to a U.S. military recruiter on paper the feeling that he held in his heart. "I miss my grandma in El Salvador," Barrera told the full audience at City Hall's Piemonte Room. "But I went to school here, formed my identity here, and feel like part of this country. I want one day to become a U.S. citizen, and to serve in the U.S. military as an officer."

Barrera was one of two immigrants whose family stories framed Monday's press launch of the New England Coalition For "Keeping Families Together," a campaign of families and community based organizations that highlights the moral cost of the broken immigration system on undocumented and mixed-status families. Comprising nearly two dozen groups across New England, the coalition forms one part of the national Keeping Families Together campaign to win comprehensive immigration reform in 2013.

                                                                                 Ever Barrera speaking at the press conference

As Barrera noted, though he remains an undocumented immigrant, for the moment he can speak under protection of DACA, the temporary Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. But his sister, who was also brought to the U.S. as a child, remains unsure about qualifying for DACA.

Opening the press conference, another DACA recipient, Rosmery Abigail Hernandez, spoke about the difficulties of belonging to a family with four members with four different immigration statuses. "We want to stay together, but our different statuses could pull us apart," she said.

Speaking between Barrera and Hernandez, allies of the campaign laid out the broad moral, economic and political rationale for reform. "All the allies speaking at this event believe that just and humane reform must place people on a path to citizenship, so that we can keep families together," said the event emcee, Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA).

"In my congregation I see the past and present stories of immigration," said Burns Stanfield, President of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and reverend at the ethnically and historically rich Fourth Presbyterian Church in South Boston. "The holiest of texts, the Koran, the Talmud and the Bible, clearly say that it is a sacred duty to treat the stranger with dignity and even with love...Children of God deserve respect, deserve dignity, and they deserve comprehensive immigration reform."

Rocio Saenz, President, SEIU Local 615 spoke of the economic imperative for labor to support reform. "It will shrink the underground economy, which will raise the status not only of immigrant workers, but of all workers," she explained. "Employers threatening undocumented workers with deportation so they can economically exploit them undercuts wages and job opportunities for everybody."

"Without immigration reform, the number of complaints we receive about discrimination due to national origin will only continue to mount," said Rahsaan Hall, Deputy Director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. "Too often we are approached by people who are stopped by police merely because they are 'driving while brown.' Even when people have legal immigration status, this kind of treatment breeds fear and resentment that harms relations between police and immigrants and decreases security for everyone."

"Two things set this nation apart from most others in the world," said event host Felix G. Arroyo, Boston City Councilor-at-Large. "The first thing is that almost all the people in this country trace their origins back to immigrants. And the other is that we have free elections.We now find ourselves at a juncture of both. It is time for our congressional delegation, and for our next U.S. Senator, to step forward not only as supporters, but as champions for immigration reform, so that we can win on this vital issue now."