Undocumented Immigrants Tour New England Sharing Stories
Despite pain of family seperation, immigrants take strength from unity and promise of comprehensive immigration reform bill in March
March 5, 2013 BOSTON – "The only thing that makes us different from most Americans is a social security card," said Samantha, an undocumented immigrant from Brazil who rode a bus across 500 miles through four New England states this weekend to share her story and ask Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform this year. Along with other riders, Samantha spoke before gathered crowds and to individual reporters at six stops on the New England "Keeping Families Together" Bus Tour, part of a national mobilization to show the human face of the current broken immigration system.
Samantha and her brother João, front left, with the Keeping Families Together Bus traveling through New England this weekend.
One of the ten other immigrants and supporters on the bus was Samantha's younger brother João, who expects to receive work authorization under President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Samantha, however, cannot apply for DACA herself, since applicants must have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday. Samantha arrived when she was 16-and-a-half.
"If President Obama now told me I could be either Brazilian or American, I would chose American, no questions," said Samantha, now 29. "I love America. I feel American. I just want the chance to live and work and contribute to my community fully. As soon as we pass reform, I plan to finally go to college."
Rosmery Abigail Hernandez has been fortunate enough to realize her college dreams, since she graduated from a Massachusetts high school the same month that President Obama declared DACA last June. But she rode the bus because the passage of DACA is only a temporary, partial fix.
"There are four people in my family," Abigail said. "And they have four different immigration statuses. I feel like I'm going to wake up and see us pulled in four different directions one morning."
As Samantha, Abigail and the others shared their stories at each stop, audience members ranging in age from 13 to 73 also came forward with their own heartbreaking stories of fear and separation. "I cry myself to sleep every night worrying about my father," said one young girl at the Gloria Dei Step Up Center in Providence.
"Girls this age should be studying their school books, not worrying about losing a parent," said Center Founder-Director Keila Rodriguez. "We need to join together and stop this from constantly happening to working families with young children in towns across America."
Despite the pain and frustration, the tour was lifted by the support of local community organizations like Gloria Dei, along with organizations in Nashua, New Hampshire; Worcester, Massachusetts; New Haven, Connecticut; Brockton, Massachusetts; and East Boston. In New Haven, over 100 supporters greeted the bus at City Hall, where New Haven mayor John DeStefano led a rousing welcome, the first of three packed stops in the city. As the bus traveled from one to the other, it was followed by a caravan of about ten cars with sirens and horns blaring.
In East Boston, City Councilor-at-Large Felix Arroyo greeted the bus riders in a warm speech at the East Boston Ecumenical Community Center, followed by Camilo Hernandez from East Boston City Councilor Sal LaMattina's office. Another bus rider, Belgica, summarized the tour's mission at this closing stop, "We cry our tears, of course, but this tour is special because it helps us come out of the shadows, unite, and raise our voice as one to keep families together."
The tour is part of the “Keeping Families Together” campaign sponsored by the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM). This national mobilization includes seven regional bus tours that have been stopping in 19 states and visiting more than 90 cities. The goal is to move Congress to swiftly pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the United States’ 11 million undocumented immigrants.
For more information on New England Coalition for Keeping Families Together, visithttp://www.facebook.com/NewEnglandKFT and http://www.facebook.com/MIRACoalition. To hear stories from more families, go to www.keepingfamiliestogether.net.
Supporters of the New England Keeping Families Together Bus Tour: Brockton Interfaith Community, Comité de Inmigrantes en Acción, Community Connections of Brockton, East Boston Ecumenical Community Council (EBECC), Fuerza Laboral (Providence, RI), Irish International Immigrant Center (IIIC), JUNTA for Progressive Action (New Haven, CT), Latinas Know Your Rights, Massachusetts Community Action Network/PICO National Network, Maria Luisa de Moreno International Foundation, Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), New Bedford Community Economic Development Center of Southeastern Massachusetts (CEDC), New Hampshire Alliance of Immigrants and Refugees, REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, Roca Inc, SEIU 615, Unidad Latina (New Haven, CT), Worcester Immigrant Coalition.