Massachusetts Immigrant Advocates Decry President's Delay on Immigration Action

Press conference underscores trauma caused by White House delay and urges calls to President, pressure from Congressional delegation, and voter engagement

pressconfwebSeptember 24, 2014 BOSTON - A few days after Independence Day, a Mexican immigrant and father of three named Jose left his East Boston apartment to get one of his daughter's bag from the family car. He hasn't been able to return home since.

Jose has lived in this country for 17 years, is a foreman in his trade union, and volunteers with religious organizations. None of that mattered when he was stopped outside his apartment and asked for ID by agents for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who happened to be looking for a neighbor. Jose could only produce an old Mexican passport, and as his three daughters watched through the apartment window, protesting and crying, Jose was detained. (The children have since had to undergo therapy for the trauma).

At noon yesterday, Jose's wife, Judith, told this story as she stood at a press conference outside the JFK Federal Building in Government Center, where immigration courts daily prosecute mothers and fathers for deportation. Judith appeared at the press conference not just to plead her husband's case, however, but to publicly ask President Obama to live up to his June promise to take executive action on immigration reform at summer's end, so that others would not have to suffer her family's fate. With trembling voice, she also said that this morning ICE had sent her husband to Louisiana for final deportation proceedings.

Carlos Rojas Álvarez followed Judith to forcefully underscore the cost of the President's delay on action. After describing the history of his own family's immigration struggles, during which his father "self deported," the 20-year-old Campaign Organizer with the Student Immigrant Movement pointed to his "Obama Deports Parents" t-shirt and said, "This shirt speaks truth...For the past two years, my mom and I have watched both Republicans and Democrats toss our lives around like a game of political hot potato. Today, it is painful to say that President Obama continues to build on his legacy as Deporter-In-Chief. And he's built on that by deciding to protect Democrats and holding off on administrative relief until after the election. To him, protecting five conservative Democrats in conservative districts matters more than the lives of my mother, and the lives of millions of people in this country. Because he refuses to provide big and bold administrative relief to my mom, and to millions of other mothers and fathers and aunts and uncles and hard-working individuals in this country, another 70,000 individuals will be deported between September and the November elections."

Other speakers pointed out how the system hurts all Massachusetts residents, native and foreign-born alike."I want to share and express a frustration to anyone who feels that this issue does not affect them," said Juan Vega, Executive Director of Centro Latino. "Anyone who likes to give their children fresh fruits and vegetables for snacks, and likes to get to an office or to a school that is clean, and likes to go out for a good meal, IS affected. The general public needs to understand that there is a direct interdependence that we all have with immigrants, INCLUDING undocumented immigrants. That fruit or vegetable did not pick itself. There was no fairy that came to your classroom to take out the trash or vacuum your floor. And that fancy dinner that you had, it didn't get teleported from space.

"We all rely on immigrants in a very large part so that we can have these comforts," Mr. Vega continued."We all have something to win or lose in this situation. According to the Pew Center's 2010 calculation, Massachusetts is home to about 160,000 undocumented immigrants, less than three percent of our total population. And yet they make up a crucial sector of economy and our workforce. They pay nearly $140 million in taxes every year, including $40 million in income tax. If they were to be removed or left, our economy would lose $12 billion in economic activity and over 55,000 permanent jobs."

Ronnie Millar, Executive Director of the Irish International Immigrant Center, pointed out that another strength of Massachusetts is the diversity of its immigrant population, and that this diverse population is unified with other sectors, pushing for change that would benefit all. "We know that locally we are making a difference, with Somerville, Cambridge and Boston joining over 100 municipalities in passing local Trust Acts." Mr. Millar said. "We are all standing with families [facing deportation], and we're not going to back down."

Laura Rotolo, Staff Attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, pointed out some of the avenues for action open to the President. "Although we have to keep the pressure on Congress for a lasting solution to our broken immigration system, there are many things the President and his administration can do today. For example, the President can end Secure Communities and other failed programs that blur the lines between local police and federal immigration enforcement. The President can expand DACA to other eligible groups. He can also stop prosecuting people and making them do hard time simply for crossing the border."

Ms. Rotolo emphasized each point with the simple refrain, "Justice delayed is justice denied," and urged calls to the White House at 866-473-5915.

Lastly, Thalita Dias, Campaign Organizer with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, closed with the ultimate action that family members and allies can take: Register and vote. "Some people think that this mid-term election doesn't matter, but it can make a huge difference in passage of a Safe Driving Bill, so immigrants can drive, with passage of the Trust Act, to end the fear caused by Secure Communities."

As Juan Vega of Centro Latino noted, in 2012 legislators of every party and persuasion heard the Latino vote. "Now it's time for them to heed it."