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Pressley solicits input on immigration

Holds listening session at East Boston YMCA

Karen Miller
Pressley solicits input on immigration
Ayanna Pressley shares ideas with 7th Congressional District residents. PHOTO: KAREN MORALES

Ayanna Pressley, Congresswoman-elect for the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District, held an equity agenda forum in East Boston Dec. 15 with a focus on immigration.

“I’m accountable to you,” said Pressley to the several dozen attendees on Saturday afternoon. “You don’t have to ask and wonder, what are you doing in Washington? This is the blueprint.”

Pressley said she would be using feedback, experiences and ideas from the community to inform her policy agenda and legislative work.

“I said that if I was so humbled and fortunate enough to be elected to represent the Massachusetts 7th in Congress, that if you delivered me, that I was bringing all of you along with me,” she said. “This is how I’m doing that. By developing legislation in concert with you. By actively listening to you.”

The forum, held at the East Boston YMCA in the Orient Heights neighborhood, was hosted in partnership with the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. Free child care and Spanish translation was provided.

District 2 City Councilor Lydia Edwards was in attendance, as well as representatives from the offices of Mayor Martin Walsh and state Rep. Adrian Madaro.

Key immigration issues

Liza Ryan, director of organizing for MIRA, outlined key immigration policies and civil rights that have been under attack in the last year by federal, state and local governments.

“You know your community best. We need your expertise at this moment,” said Ryan.

The major battles currently being fought by immigrants and their allies on the federal level include the renewal of the Temporary Protected Status program; maintaining the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals programs; defeating President Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban;” fighting the possibility of a citizenship question on the 2020 U.S. Census; and protecting immigrants and refugees seeking asylum at the U.S. border.

On the local level, Ryan said that the Safe Communities Act, a state bill that would prevent deputizing state and local law enforcement as ICE agents, was only adopted as a budget amendment by the Massachusetts Senate thus far.

Other state immigration issues include the recent REAL ID law that prevents undocumented immigrants from obtaining a Massachusetts driver’s license and the barring of undocumented students from receiving financial aid for college. 

Community ideas

While each individual attendee was able to write down policy ideas and concerns and submit them directly to Pressley’s team, several ideas were expressed aloud by community members.

These ideas included lobbying to update the state’s foundation budget bill with increased education funding and adding more trauma counselors in schools; streamlining citizenship pathways through programs such as TPS; including black and Asian immigrants in the conversation of immigrant civil rights; dispelling the “model immigrant” narrative; and addressing voter suppression tactics in certain communities.

Ryan said that a lot of the work being done by agencies such as the Lawyers for Civil Rights, American Civil Liberties Union and Centro Presente has been through lawsuits directed at the Trump Administration. TPS holders gained a temporary reprieve through a preliminary injunction granted by U.S. District Judge Edward Chen in October after a case was filed last March by the ACLU of Southern California and other advocates.

Although Pressley does not have direct legislative influence at the State House level, she said, “I will be leaning in on some state issues as well,” through her advocacy work.

One attendee, Yvette Modestin, highlighted her perspective as a black woman born and raised in Panama and living in the U.S. “I often don’t get included in conversations about immigration policy and Latinx issues,” she said. “All immigrants don’t look the same, and it’s important we include that in this agenda.”

Pressley told the group, “This agenda is called the equity agenda because the Massachusetts 7th is the most diverse and unequal congressional district in our delegation and arguably one of the most unequal in the country. Those disparities didn’t just happen. They were created by policy.”

She continued, “The way to disrupt these inequitable outcomes along transit, environmental injustices, access to affordable housing, jobs with a living wage, high performing schools and communities that feel safe and healthy … is through holistic and thoughtful policy that puts you at the center.”

During her congressional campaign in November, Pressley hosted an equity agenda forum on criminal justice reform in Roxbury. The Congresswoman-elect said she will continue to host more forums in the 7th Congressional District in the near future.

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