Massachusetts Stands Together for Immigration Reform

Event included leaders of government, business, labor and faith communities

May 10, 2013, BOSTON – On Friday morning, May 10, Massachusetts community, government, business and labor leaders came together at Boston City Hall to express their shared conviction that Congress should pass immigration reform now, to strengthen the safety and further the prosperity of all Americans.

Immigration Reform Press Conference
Sponsored by MIRA on behalf of the New England Coalition for Keeping Families together, and held the day after mark-up began on the Senate's bipartisan immigration reform bill, the press conference publicly re-affirmed the support of Massachusetts leaders at a time of public uncertainty in the wake of the tragic and heinous Boston Marathon bombings.

"We are here to make clear that Massachusetts stands strong, with many voices joined as one, on the need to bring about commonsense, fair and effective immigration reform " said Eva Millona, Executive Director of MIRA. "It is to strengthen the bonds and honor the values that define us as a nation that we have all come together this morning, to voice our support for reform now."

Speakers at the Press Conference included U.S. Representative Michael Capuano; Robert Beal, President of The Beal Companies; Reverend Daniel Smith, Vice-President of the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and Senior Minister at First Church Cambridge; Steven Tolman, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO; State Representative Denise Provost; Emily Winterson, from Senator Elizabeth Warren's office; Vincent Lau, Chair of the New England Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA); Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo, who hosted the conference; and Boston City Councilor Charles Yancy. Also present was Norma Velasquez, a mother of five from Fitchburg, who spoke on behalf of the father of her youngest child, now in deportation proceedings.

Representative Michael Capuano, a long-time supporter of the rights of immigrants and himself the grandson of immigrants to Somerville, stressed the historic opportunity represented by the current reform legislation. Recalling the country’s proud history of bipartisan lawmaking, he spoke directly to the community of immigrant advocates and supporters of reform, calling on them to continue their fight for fair and balanced bipartisan legislation, and "not to let their efforts be derailed" by divisive politics in the wake of the bombings.

"Immigrant workers play a key role of in the state’s economy," stated Robert Beal, a tremendously successful Boston real estate developer and investment adviser and a long-time community leader, who emphasized the need to retain the best and the brightest foreign students who study at the state’s great colleges and universities. He also stressed the crucial importance of supporting the educational aspirations of immigrant children in the Commonwealth by granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students.

Steven Tolman, a former state senator who has fought for years for the rights of all workers in Massachusetts, stressed the historic moment of cooperation and consensus between business and labor represented the by current bill, a bill that extends the same protections to all workers, native born and immigrant alike, as they seek the same American dream. “For decades, we have see that dream buckle as an underground economy exploited workers, who were victims of our dysfunctional, decaying immigration system.”

Reverend Smith spoke to the moral imperative of reforming that system, and the values of welcoming the stranger and providing sanctuary shared by Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths alike. He also pointed to the cruel impact of a broken system on immigrant families, with more than 200,000 parents of U.S. citizen children deported since 2010. “Every day, 300 of these children are deprived of the presence of their mother, father or both.” These deportations, he emphasized, not only break apart families they hurt entire communities. Ending this systematic harm to millions of families living in the shadows is not only good social and economic strategy, he affirmed, but a statement of our deepest shared values.

Through her representative Emily Winterson, Senator Elizabeth Warren—whose strong advocacy for immigration reform was made clear in her impassioned speech before hundreds of immigrants and advocates on April 6 at Faneuil Hall—also re-affirmed the need for a balanced and comprehensive bipartisan bill that upholds our existing laws, maintains border security, includes protections for the rights of native and foreign-born workers alike, offers a path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country, and helps the state and the country retain talent trained at our world-class institutions and support job creation for all Americans.

State Representative Denise Provost of Somerville, who represents a community that is now more than one-third immigrant, mentioned "we constantly receive calls and e-mails from the community asking us what can we do for their neighbors whose spouse was deported or similar stories." She emphasized the negative impact of a broken federal immigration system on state law, and the yearly battles against harsh and divisive anti-immigrant legislation and budget amendments, legislation encouraged by the lack of a clear, comprehensive and balanced federal policy mandate.

Finally, Norma Velasquez, an Uruguayan immigrant and member of the Comite de Vecinos, who has lived in Fitchburg for nearly a decade, spoke movingly about the impact of that broken immigration system on her own family and children. On March 3, Norma and her partner and the father of the youngest of her five children, Josue Martinez, were stopped by state police, apparently for no other reason than the color of his skin. Though he has provided for Norma and her five children for years and been a hard-working member of the community, Josue is now in detention facing deportation—leaving Norma to support her children alone, including one who is a college student in Boston and her youngest, Josue’s son, who is experiencing developmental delays as a result of stress over his father’s absence. Speaking in Spanish through an interpreter, Norma described her love of the U.S., her desire to “live and work in this great country” with all her family by her side, and her hope that the laws will change to allow them to be together.

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Norma Velazquez and her children William (12 years-old), Maria (15), Jorge (12) , Lorena (18) and Luis (4)