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Labor Day speakers put focus on immigrant rights

Calls for unity as hundreds rally in Copley Square

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Labor Day speakers put focus on immigrant rights
SEUI Local 32BJ Vice President Roxana Rivera rallies a crowd of labor activists in Copley Square. BANNER PHOTO

Elida Guevara left El Salvador 20 years ago, at a time when civil war was raging. She had missed months of school after her teachers went missing.

“I had no job, no school,” she said. “I wanted a better life.”

Elida Guevara, with daughter Yadira Maldonado, speaks to reporters. BANNER PHOTO

Elida Guevara, with daughter Yadira Maldonado, speaks to reporters. BANNER PHOTO

At age 17, she came to live in the United States under Temporary Protected Status, an immigration classification that until recently, allowed refugees from war and natural disaster to live and work here.

Since President Donald Trump’s administration rescinded TPS last year for Salvadorans, as well as refugees from Haiti and Liberia, Guevara has been in limbo, fearing she’ll be separated from her two U.S.-born daughters.

On Monday, Guevara took to the stage at a Labor Day rally in the shadow of 200 Clarendon Street, the 62-story tower where she works as a janitor, to make the case for immigrant rights.

“We are looking for a path to citizenship,” she told the crowd of labor activists from SEIU locals, teachers unions and others in the labor movement.

With an onslaught of anti-union and anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy coming out of the White House, speakers at this year’s rally said they’re putting a focus on unity.

“We are in a time when the spirit of fear is being stoked all across the nation,” said Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, pastor of the New Roots African Methodist Episcopal Church in Dorchester. “Somebody’s telling us that our problems are because of our brothers and sisters. We are here today to say we reject the spirit of fear.”

While the Trump administration has rolled back workers’ and immigrants’ rights and union membership is down, SEIU 32BJ Vice President Roxana Rivera noted that public support for labor unions is increasing. A recent Gallup poll found that 64 percent of Americans approve of labor unions.

“Labor is made up of immigrants and people of color who want to live out the American Dream,” said Rivera, whose union represents janitors, security guards and other service workers. “We’re lifting up their struggles and victories. We know that when we fight, we win.”

Rivera noted that throughout the country, SEIU locals have organized tens of thousands of airport workers, including many at Logan Airport.

“We’ve invested in organizing,” she said. “We’re challenging other unions to live up to that.”

Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, also spoke at the rally. She said her union is joining with 32BJ in pushing for passage of the Safe Communities Act, which would bar police in Massachusetts from enforcing federal immigration law, and of the Work and Family Mobility Act, which would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain state driver’s licenses.

“You can’t educate a student completely without the participation of the parents,” she said.

Speakers at the Labor Day event included U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley. After the rally in Copley Square, the crowd of several hundred marched down Boylston Street to the Boston Common.

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