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What this season means and our call to welcome the stranger

Ruthzee Louijeune

Christmas is a holiday that is now celebrated as a family holiday of gift-giving for some, a day of deep religious meaning and observance for others, and of course, overlap between the two. Whether we observe Christmas as a religious holiday or not, we would do well to remember during this holiday season that the Christmas story is a tale of migration and compassion. After his birth, Jesus and his parents fled Bethlehem to escape the wrath of the ruling king and sought refuge in Egypt.

Over the past year, Boston has seen an increase in the number of migrants seeking shelter and asylum. Many of these new arrivals have been forced to abandon everything they know and come to the United States to escape persecution, harm, natural disasters, sexual violence and so much more. Like so many of us, they want stable shelter, food for their families, education for their kids and a job that pays a living wage. Yet in so many cases, they are met with violence, used as political pawns and denied the legal rights that our immigration system demands we give them as asylum-seekers.

Our hospitals, community-based organizations, churches and homeless shelters have been doing their best to meet the basic needs of new arrivals on shoestring resources. Organizations such as Centro Presente, Immigrant Family Services Institute, and Mutual Aid Eastie have been rooted and centered in this work, and have been doing the impossible every single day, but it’s not enough. Our commonwealth and the city of Boston have the ability to make meaningful resources available immediately. We just have to find the compassion and political will to make it happen. It must be said that this is not a zero-sum game — we can and we must take care of those who have lived in Boston for generations and those who have just arrived. That is the calling of a just, inclusive and welcoming city that acknowledges the centrality of immigrants in our economic and cultural fabric.

As the daughter of Haitian immigrants and as chair of the City Council’s Committee on Civil Rights and Immigrant Advancement, I have worked to secure critical funding for organizations on the ground doing the work to meet the needs of our new arrivals, including $1.1 million dollars in funds to support immediate shelter needs and $100,0000 to expand capacity for Boston’s Citizenship Day, an annual event for people who are eligible for naturalization to get free legal help with their citizenship application. As more migrants arrive, I continue to work tirelessly alongside colleagues at all levels of government to secure state and federal funding, which we hope to see in the new year.

This holiday season, let’s do more than wish for good tidings for those who find themselves in a new city fearful and without. Let’s lead by example and show them what Boston is really made of and who we strive to be. Join me in a call to our legislators asking that they pass a migrant relief package now. And if you have the ability, join me in donating to one of the many worthy organizations on the front lines of welcoming those seeking refuge with compassion.

Ruthzee Louijeune is an at-large city councilor.

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