1,500 immigrants & allies advocate for their priorities at the State House

Largest-ever Immigrants’ Day at the State House offers a powerful rebuke against bigotry

IDSH2017 Matias
State Rep. Juana Matías, House sponsor of the Safe Communities Act, introduces the speaking program.

BOSTON, April 5, 2017 – About 1,500 immigrants, children of immigrants and their allies came together at the State House today to advocate for a Commonwealth where all people feel welcome to pursue their dreams and feel safe, regardless of where they were born.

This was the 21st Immigrants’ Day at the State House, and the largest to date. The annual event, organized by the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), brings the community to Beacon Hill to celebrate their contributions to the state’s economy, culture and civic life, and to speak with legislators about bills and budget items that are priorities for foreign-born residents.

“We knew to expect a big crowd, because people were eager to speak out against the bigotry and xenophobia that we’ve been witnessing,” said Liza Ryan, director of organizing at MIRA. “Still, it was awe-inspiring to see the Great Hall packed with people from all over the world who’ve made America their home, and who came to speak out for themselves and their communities.”

IDSH2017 AlphaDamaris Samayoa and Patricia Sobalvarro, of Agencia ALPHA, hold up their Immigrants’ Day signs in the crowded Great Hall.

Schools, community organizations and activists from across the state visited senators and representatives in their offices, telling their personal stories and lobbying for specific bills. Hundreds more wrote messages on postcards to be delivered to their legislators and Governor Charlie Baker.

Among their top priorities was the Safe Communities Act (S.1305 and H.3269), which would ensure that state and local resources are used to serve and protect Massachusetts residents, not enforce federal immigration law. The bill also introduces basic due process guarantees for people in civil immigration detention and bars access to state data for creating a federal registry based on religion, national origin or other protected characteristics.

Other priorities for Massachusetts’ 1 million foreign-born residents this year include robust funding for citizenship programs and English language classes and a bill to help reduce barriers for foreign-trained medical professionals to get licensed in the state.

State Rep. Juana Matías, the lead House sponsor of the Safe Communities Act, was master of ceremonies for the Immigrants’ Day speaking program in the Great Hall, which was filled to capacity. The daughter of an undocumented immigrant, Matías was the first Latina to be elected to the House.

MIRA Executive Director Eva Millona urged everyone to “to take a stand and say no bully has the right to strip our residents of due process or to co-opt our police for its own ill-begotten purposes.”

IDSH2017 Eva-StanRosenberg
MIRA Executive Director Eva Millona with Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who said immigrants are “good people trying to make a good life in a great Commonwealth.”

“Massachusetts is great because it is a place where people from around the world, from Ireland, to Italy, from El Salvador to Somalia have found an education, a home and an ability to make a future that makes all of our lives richer,” she added.

Senate President Stan Rosenberg made his own impassioned call for Massachusetts to defend civil rights. “The Constitution of the United States doesn’t say ‘We the citizens’; it says ‘We the people’, and all the provisions of the Constitutions are guaranteed for all people who are here,” he said, adding that everyone must stand up against mistreatment of immigrants. “If we do not all stand shoulder to shoulder, immigrants and non-immigrants, your turn might be next,” he said.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone, the son of Italian immigrants, pushed back against efforts to divide people, based on their nationality, race, religion or other factors. “No one is on the outside of our communities in the Commonwealth,” he said.  Echoing Rosenberg, he also warned against thinking discrimination is someone else’s problem. “We cannot be complicit,” he said. “It’s everyone’s problem.”

Several speakers made references to dark moments in history that we cannot allow to be repeated. Secretary of State William Galvin likened recent immigration enforcement policies and actions to efforts to capture runaway slaves. What is happening now, he declared, “is not America… This is not the way our history commands us to behave.”

The audience also heard from three immigrants: Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which has filed a lawsuit to protect Chelsea and Lawrence from retaliation against “sanctuary cities”; Elias Rosenfeld, a student at Brandeis University and a “Dreamer”; and Deeqo Jibril, founder of the Somali Community and Cultural Association.

Jibril spoke of coming to America as a refugee with her mother, without even a suitcase. Today she owns several businesses in Boston and is running for the City Council. “That’s not just my success – that’s Boston’s success; that’s the Commonwealth’s success,” she said.

Along with the activities inside the State House, MIRA and English for New Bostonians organized a rally on Boston Common, with Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston; Cambridge City Councilor Nadeem Mazen; and a wide range of speakers from the the community – from a rabbi, to doctors, to Latinos fighting for social justice across the state.

To see live tweets from the events, look for the hashtag #ImmigrantsDayMA. Scroll down to see highlights of media coverage of the events. Read the full text of Eva Millona’s prepared remarks, and Mayor Curtatone’s prepared remarks. Learn more about Immigrants’ Day 2017. More photos are posted here.

IDSH2017 rallyA view from above of the Immigrants’ Day rally on Boston Common, which drew more than 100 supporters from across the community.

Media coverage highlights:

On Immigrants’ Day, advocates urge legislators to pass ‘sanctuary state’ bill
The Boston Globe, April 6, 2017

Immigrants Day held in Boston
NECN and NBC Boston, April 5, 2017

Safe Communities Act may force Beacon Hill to weigh in on immigration
State House News Service, April 5, 2017

Inmigrantes piden protección en su día
Telemundo, April 5, 2017

Heated rhetoric against President Donald Trump characterizes Statehouse immigrant lobby day
MassLive, April 5, 2017

Immigrants work State House agenda
Boston Neighborhood Network, April 5, 2017