A Thousand New Englanders "Stand Up for All Children" at Boston March and Rally

Speakers urge due process for children who have fled violence in Central America and call for end to family separations


August 8, 2014 BOSTON — "There's a fact that has gotten lost in the media over these past few
weeks," said State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz to hundreds of ralliers in the Boston Common yesterday evening. "At times, the calls coming into the administration have numbered three to one in
FAVOR of the Central American children fleeing violence. It shows that despite a loud minority, the state of Massachusetts cares about all children in need."

The message was reflected in the diversity of supporters who had gathered in Copley Square and marched to the foot of the State House, beneath the balcony behind the Robert Gould Shaw memorial. Organized by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA) and endorsed by 98 organizations throughout New England — from civil rights groups, to unions, to health care organizations — the "Stand Up for All Children" march and rally drew supporters from Cape Cod to New Hampshire, and throughout Greater Boston from Quincy to Lynn (The New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, Latinos Unidos en Massachusetts, Latinas Know Your Rights, and the Brockton Interfaith Community even rented buses).

At its height, a thousand marchers closed down Boylston and Charles streets, chanting in English and Spanish to the quick syncopated beat of drummers strung throughout the long procession, while volunteers passed out flyers to the bystanders on the sidewalk, proclaiming three simple and positive points:

  • New Englanders have compassion and call for due process for children fleeing violence.
  • Governor Patrick and thousands of Massachusetts residents deserve thanks for the heartfelt support they have shown these children.
  • President Obama should enact administrative relief to stop the separation of families that has contributed to this crisis.

At the Shaw memorial, speakers expanded on these messages in remarks delivered over a microphone aided by bullhorns, since the portable speaker proved too small to reach the entire crowd.

Cristina Aguilera, Director of Organizing at MIRA, opened the rally by highlighting all the supporting organizations and introducing Gladys Vega, Executive Director of the Chelsea Collaborative, who presented to the crowd Kimberly, a 7-year-old girl from Honduras who recently came to rejoin family in Chelsea, after escaping violence in her home country. The City of Chelsea, which boasts the highest immigrant population of any municipality in the state, has welcomed children like Kimberly with compassion, presenting a model of how public and private efforts can help ease the transition as children join family members throughout Massachusetts while awaiting adjudication of their cases.

Lucy Pineda, Executive Director of LUMA (Latinos Unidos en Massachusetts), related the cases she has seen in Everett to her own immigrant journey from El Salvador, and noted that many mothers of young children now must bear Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ankle bracelets, even as they try to see to their family's most pressing needs.

Laura Wagner, Executive Director of Unitarian Universalist Mass Action, offered a reminder that this cold reception hasn't just come from ICE. "Over the past few weeks, we've heard some hateful things said about the children who have arrived at our border," she said. "These children are fleeing violence in Central America. They are refugees and this is a humanitarian crisis. It’s important to remember that we don’t answer hate with more hate. We answer it with compassion."

Other speakers expanded on this moral message in their particular faith traditions. Mariama White Hammond, Minister of the Bethel AME Church, gave an eloquent and moving analogy to the Holy Family's flight into Egypt. Simon Sakpo, Minister of Divine Source Ministries in Brockton, related it to Colossians 3:11, " that we have to perceive everyone as Christ, for Christ is all, and in all."  Cindy Rowe, Director of Development and Outreach at the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action,  related it to the Torah's "most repeated principle:" to love the stranger as oneself.

"Can we read these ancient words, and stand by when our American immigration system has all but collapsed?"  Ms. Rowe asked.  "Can we ignore the pain of parents who have made the heartbreaking decision to send their children away, to America, so that they have a chance of survival?"

All the speakers answered this question in resounding affirmations for action. "We need a comprehensive and humane approach to reforming our immigration laws," Ms. Rowe continued  "We need due process for immigrants. And, if we can’t make the changes we want to see happen right now in Congress, we need to use every tool available to us – to the President, and on the state level - to prevent the mistreatment of immigrants and separation of families."

Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson reminded the crowd that the children fleeing harm suffer from the long consequences of "American actions in Central America," and Nashwa Gewaily, legal fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union, turned the table on those who would argue that a "nation of laws" has no place for these children. "If this is your rallying cry, then you must defend the laws of due process, the laws that ensure a fair hearing, and fair representation, and our obligations of humanitarian protection under international law. That’s what it means to be a nation of laws."

Gewaily's comments also summarized the ultimate point of the two-hour march and rally."To hold ourselves out – with credibility and sincerity –  as a nation of moral courage, a nation of compassion, a nation of justice that protects the most vulnerable among us."