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Boston activists march on Boston Common while Congress remains stalled on immigration reform

Nate Homan
Boston activists march on Boston Common while Congress remains stalled on immigration reform
Immigration activists rally at Copley Square before marching to the Boston Common last week. While the GOP-controlled Congress passed a measure that would have expedited deportations of child immigrants, Democrats are advocating evaluating immigrants on a case-by-case basis. (Banner photo)

The tone on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. is distinctively different from the message sent by Massachusetts activists and politicians, who rallied on the Common and demanded a new, more compassionate nationwide approach to addressing the recent deluge of undocumented children arriving at the U.S. border.

The House of Representatives passed two anti-immigration bills on August 1 that would block President Barack Obama from taking executive action on immigration while expediting the deportation process. The House bill, which passed 216-192, seeks to stop the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-backed program introduced during the summer heading into the 2012 election.

Congressman Mike Capuano said that the GOP bills were more political theater and posturing than actual legislative measures.

“This was nothing more than an attempt to send a political message to President Obama and the Democrats in Congress,” Capuano said. “It has no chance of going any further. The Senate is already gone on break and the President would veto the bill even if it somehow passed the Senate.”

Capuano said that he voted against these bills because the measures are “Anti-American.”

“My guess is that many of these children will be sent home. But these are different children from different countries with different stories, and some of them may fit the criteria for refugee status. My hope is that the immigration policy should be willing to help human beings to help get their fair share of the American dream.”

“I am all for secure borders and for following rules. But each of these children should be treated and judged on an individual basis,” Capuano said. “This is time consuming and it makes people uncomfortable, but it’s the right thing to do.”

Last week, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition hosted a rally at Copley Square and marched up to the State House, calling on President Barack Obama and Congress to adopt a more compassionate approach to the children fleeing to the Mexico/Texas border from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, where rampant violence and poverty are driving many to make the risky journey north.

Marchers held signs calling for due process and asylum for the children held in detention centers and thanked Governor Deval Patrick for his compassion towards reuniting families.

“We believe that all of the children coming here from Central America deserve full due process and a chance to prove their case for asylum,” Frank Soults, MIRA Coalition communications director said.

“We also want to thank Governor Patrick for offering a center for these children that’s no longer needed. But there are hundreds of children already here and hundreds more on their way.”

Soults said that MIRA and other activist groups condemn the House bills, calling them cold, mean spirited pieces of legislation.

“Both of these bills seem to be pandering to the Republican base, who are out of touch with what the American people want,” Soults said.

“Passing these bills showed a lack of understating towards the children who were brought here by their parents who just want a chance at an education and a decent life here. They seemed to be coming around in 2012, but then they turned around and passed a bill that called for deportations. It seems as if they’re pushing for a pure enforcement regime that will create economic hardship for the country while tearing families apart. It’s a mean spirited approach that will ultimately fail them.”

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said that Governor Patrick’s office has received letters of support at a rate of three to one in favor of protecting the migrant children instead of shipping them back to their home countries in broad sweeps.

“It wasn’t just our Governor who opened our state’s arms to welcome these children who risk their lives to cross our border,” Chang-Diaz said. “Thousands and thousands of people across Massachusetts have also stood up and defined what kind of state we’re going to be.”

Representatives from The Chelsea Collaborative, The National Association of Social Workers, SEIU, The Haitian Community Partners, The Massachusetts Alliance of Portuguese Speakers joined various religious groups and local legislators who marched in solidarity with hundreds of people, demanding the federal government treat the thousands of undocumented minors as refugees, not criminals.

“We have children fleeing here from Honduras, where the murder rate is 30 times that of the entire United States,” Reverend Mairama White-Hammond told the crowd. “It is unimaginable that we are fighting about the safety of children. The soul of our country is at a crossroads.”

Thursday’s march was lead by young children carrying a large banner reading “#Stand Up 4 All Kids. Keep Families Together.” Drummers kept the marching tempo for the hundreds of participants who carried signs and chanted in Spanish and English, calling on Congress to end the deportation of undocumented children.

Organizers shouted call-and-response chants into bullhorns, calling for justice, “Obama! Obama! Protect our children,” and “education, not deportations.” They marched up Boylston Street, blocking traffic to the dismay of rush hour commuters and reached the stairs across from the State House next to the Robert Gould Shaw Memorial.

“We are marching to show that we want our leaders to protect the children fleeing the violence in their home countries,” MIRA Coalition Organizing Director Cristina Aguilera said. “We have over a hundred organizations standing together with us today. All of us are sending a message that we are welcoming all of the children.”

“All my life in Boston, I have supported the rights of children and families to be a part of our country,” former City Councilor Felix D. Arroyo said while marching. “They are fighting for basic rights. I consider them as people who should be accepted here. Their parents go through a very traumatic experience in sending their children here for them to have a better life. It’s a very difficult situation. In many cases, sending these children back to their countries is a death sentence.”