Over 600 New Americans Celebrate a Turning Tide at Immigrants Day at the Sate House
Jose Antonio Vargas and other speakers emphasize Safe Driving Bill, Tuition Equity and Trust Act as part of proactive, pro-immigrant agenda
Suarez was speaking before the packed Gardner Auditorium as Emcee at the 17th annual Immigrants Day at the State House, an advocacy day whose recent growth reflects a sea change on immigrant issues. The change has been witnessed everywhere from strong pro-immigrant results in local and national elections, to a bevy of promising new legislation in Massachusetts and other states, as well as in Washington D.C. immigrantsandadvocates this morning at the State House. "Last year we voted; now we give voice to our vote."
The crowd at the 17th Annual Immigrants Day at the State House
“Many legislators have your back, are standing with you, not only for federal immigration reform but for state reforms as well,” State Sen. Jamie Eldridge told the crowd, before leading them in a recital of the pledge of allegiance.
The moment of patriotism reflected the point that keynote speaker Jose Antonio Vargas examined from various angles."I am American," said the Pulitzer-prize winning journalist. "I'm just waiting for my country to recognize it."
Vargas discovered at age 16 that he was undocumented but kept the fact hidden for years, a story which the Philippine immigrant unveiled in a New York Times Sunday Magazine feature that has helped change the conversation about the plight of the undocumented. Vargas not only spoke about his own journey, but also about the legislation that would benefit immigrants in Massachusetts, including the Tuition Equity Bill, which would equalize tuition rates for all graduates of Massachusetts high schools regardless of immigration status. "We're not here to take a slice of your pie; we're here to make the pie bigger," Vargas said. "ANY-one's education benefits EVERY-one."
Jose Antonio Vargas shows his Philippine passport. Seated, l-r: Eva Millona, Hamideh Nilchi, Sara Suarez
Other priorities were outlined by Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. "The Safe Driving Bill will help ensure that everyone on the road in Massachusetts has a driver’s license and insurance," she said. "And the Trust Act will rebuild law enforcement’s working relationship with immigrant communities"
Ms. Millona also took time to mention MIRA's support of the Governor Deval Patrick's proposed budget."The Governor’s proposed revenue package would serve immigrants, just as it would native-born residents," she said. "All of us benefit from his plans to protect and extend our vital transportation infrastructure while investing in education and economic growth."
The event also spotlighted the English Language Learner’s Bill, which would give local schools more leeway to better instruct newcomers; the Special Juvenile Bill, which would help abused youth caught in a bureaucratic twilight zone; and the Domestic Worker’s Rights Bill, which would provide basic working rights for a neglected and easily exploited population.
The pledge of allegiance at Immigrants Day at the State House
"I worked more than 60 hours a week as a domestic worker, " said Natalicia Tracy, Director of the Brazilian Immigrant Center. "I know how important this bill is to protect a vulnerable population."
Hamideh Nilchi, an Iranian immigrant, also advocated from personal experience, asking for support for the kind of ESOL classes that helped her on the path to citizenship.
"It was my plan to present my citizenship papers and U.S. passport to my husband on Father’s Day; that was his gift," Nilchi said. "He was so happy because my citizenship represents independence, and reassurance to him that I can do things by myself now and he doesn’t have to worry about me anymore."