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‘You belong’: Immigrants’ Day brings hundreds to advocate for a more just and welcoming Commonwealth

Doris Reina-Landaverde, flanked by a Harvard student and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, advocated for driver’s license legislation.

Doris Reina-Landaverde was speaking for thousands of people, and she didn’t want to stand alone. So before she began, she asked students from Harvard University, where she works as a janitor, to join her at the podium, along with 32BJ SEIU District 615 leader Roxana Rivera and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley.

Then, her voice still shaky at first, she explained how Temporary Protected Status (TPS) ­– a humanitarian program that covers more than 12,000 immigrants in Massachusetts, about half of them Salvadorans like herself – had enabled them all to build lives and families here over the past two decades.

The Trump administration wants to end TPS for almost everyone, but a federal judge’s intervention has bought some time for TPS holders from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan (but not other countries); just last week, their protection was extended until January 2020.

But her paperwork still says Sept. 9, 2019. Her license expires on her birthday in December. And in Massachusetts, getting a driver’s license requires proof of lawful presence. TPS holders have already faced difficulties with renewals, even with the law and RMV leadership on their side.

“I live in Ayer, and I need to drive to Cambridge for my job,” she said [watch video]. “It’s the only way to get there. I need to drive for my daughters’ school, for my family’s groceries, for everything. I’ve had my license for many years. My problem shows that it’s crazy to connect driving privileges to immigrant status. I passed the road test. I always pay my insurance. I drive safely every day. But now, suddenly, I’m not allowed to have a license?”

Reina-Landaverde addressed a packed Great Hall as part of the 23rd annual Immigrants’ Day at the State House, organized by MIRA with dozens of cosponsors to advocate for legislation and vital investments to benefit immigrants and refugees in our Commonwealth.

MIRA Executive Director Eva A. Millona, right, with An Sawyer, executive director of the Southeast Asian Coalition (SEAC) in Worcester, and Lina Nguyen, also of SEAC.

“If anyone wants to know what makes Massachusetts such a thriving, creative and entrepreneurial state, here it is: We’re blessed with talent from all around the world,” said MIRA Executive Director Eva A. Millona as she welcomed the hundreds of attendees who came despite heavy snow [watch video]. “You’ve come through MIT and Harvard, sponsored by family, through refugee programs, and across the border. And even in these immensely hard times, you persist.”

Millona outlined MIRA’s legislative priorities for the 2019–2020 session, topped by the Safe Communities Act, which would limit state and local participation in federal immigration matters in order to restore community confidence in police, protect basic due process rights, and ensure that state and local resources are used to fight crime, not separate families.

The bill’s lead sponsors, Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Reps. Ruth Balser and Liz Miranda, spoke about why they see its passage as a moral imperative. Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, reinforced the message, concluding: “Justice can’t wait, because immigrant rights are human rights.”

Advocates at Immigrants’ Day also pushed for bills to make standard Massachusetts driver’s licenses available to all qualified residents, regardless of immigration status; to make all local high school graduates eligible for higher in-state tuition at public colleges and universities; to ensure all kids have adequate health coverage; to fight wage theft; to ensure continued investments in adult education and English classes; and to address barriers to licensure for foreign-trained health professionals.

U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley forcefully condemned policies that have sown fear in immigrant communities and torn families apart.

Dr. Afsaneh Moradi, an Iranian-trained physician who came to the U.S. after marrying an American, described her long struggle to be credentialed as a doctor here. She has passed all the required exams, but can’t get a residency. A friend who was a surgeon drives for Uber. Another who was a nurse now babysits for a living. “I’m the voice of thousands,” she said.

Natacha Clerger, who immigrated from Haiti, offered inspiration with her own story [watch video]. She served in the military, became an entrepreneur, obtained her U.S. citizenship, and is now Town Councillor-at-Large in Randolph. As an immigrant, she is committed to helping others find their way, connect to resources and advance in their new homeland. “We watch out for one another,” she said.

In her keynote address, Congresswoman Pressley forcefully condemned the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant agenda.

“It is a tool of oppression to have communities living in fear,” she said [watch video]. “It is violent to separate families. It is violent to decimate entire communities. It is violent to hold the worker and the family hostage in the pursuit of building a monument to hate. It is violent to fan xenophobia with racist rhetoric criminalizing and vilifying immigrants.”

Pressley also praised the courage and persistence of all who continue to fight for justice. “I celebrate and salute each and every one of you,” she said. And for immigrants and refugees, she had a simple final message: “You belong.”

See our photo album from Immigrants’ Day on Facebook

Keynote speech by U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley (full speech, Facebook)
Rep. Ruth Balser (full speech,
ACLU Mass. Executive Director Carol Rose (Facebook)
Rebecca Negreli on higher ed equity (Facebook)

State Sen. Sal DiDomenico, center, with some of the advocates who fanned out across the State House to advocate for legislation to protect immigrant rights. Sen. DiDomenico has sponsored or cosponsored several key bills, including one to protect against wage theft.