Protesters rally for immigration protection

Protesters rally for immigration protection
More than 100 people protested outside Boston's State House Wednesday, urging local governments to protect immigrants living under Temporary Protected Status. / Photo by Janette Ebbers

By Janette Ebbers, news staff

More than 100 people rallied outside the State House Wednesday to demand the protection of over 2,500 Nicaraguans living in the United States under the Temporary Protected Status designation.

After the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced it would not extend Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for Nicaraguans on Tuesday, immigrant advocacy group Centro Presente organized the rally to urge the passage of a resolution by the state government in favor of TPS extension. Eight legislative representatives from the Boston and Somerville areas attended the demonstration, as well as Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone.

TPS was signed into law by former President George H.W. Bush as part of the 1990 Immigration Act. It allows citizens from designated countries — most often ones affected by natural disasters — to work in the United States, although it does not provide green cards.

Rep. Marjorie Decker, one of the officials in attendance who represents parts of Cambridge and Cambridgeport, said Massachusetts in particular has a lot to lose if these immigrants were deported.

“We need to make sure our governor speaks out in support of those thousands of folks in our state,” Decker said. “Because without the [immigrant] presence in our state, Massachusetts stands to lose $645 million from our annual [Gross Domestic Product]. We need to send a message and have the [Department of Homeland Security] do their job.”

After the 1998 Hurricane Mitch caused mass devastation in Nicaragua, TPS allowed many Nicaraguans to leave their ravaged country to find work in the United States.

President Donald J. Trump’s administration’s attitude toward immigrants has prompted worry from other workers living under TPS protection — especially the 200,000 Salvadorans and 50,000 Haitians, whose TPS is set to expire in January 2018.

State Rep. Adrian Madaro, who represents East Boston, spoke to the assembled crowd on the importance of unified support for these threatened immigrant populations.

“This has been bipartisan in many instances,” Madaro said. “Supported by Republican presidents, extended by Democratic presidents — yet today, we’re faced with an administration who is demonizing immigrants.”

Madaro also said that Massachusetts must take the lead on this issue as the longstanding leader on protecting minority rights.

“We can take a very important symbolic step to show our immigrants here in Massachusetts but more importantly to send a message across the country, and in particular, to the White House, that we do respect our immigrants, that we do appreciate their contributions to our society,” Madaro said.

The symbolic step Madaro refers to is a resolution protesters hope will be passed by the Massachusetts legislature, which would urge the federal government to extend TPS.

Rep. Christine Barber of Somerville and Medford said the attitudes surrounding immigrants were baffling, especially in a country formed by immigrants.

“This is not a controversial issue,” Barber said. “It shouldn’t be. These are folks living in our communities, contributing to our economy. This should be a no-brainer, but unfortunately, anything to do with immigrants is under fire.”

Many participants in the protest came to advocate for the rights of immigrants in their community. Amy McCreath, an Episcopal priest in Waterford, Massachusetts, said she was there to support the people in her community who don’t have the ability to attend a rally in the middle of a workday.

“We host a Haitian congregation that uses our space in the afternoon, and so many of the people in that congregation would be affected by this change,” McCreath said. “I’ve gotten to know them, and I have the greatest admiration for them, and their fierce determination to find dignity and raise their children in a peaceful safe space — they just keep working against the odds. I’m here in solidarity with them.”

State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry said it was this sense of community that illustrated what the United States is and should be.

“It doesn’t matter what you look like,” Forry said. “Immigrant or not, we’re all Americans. It’s time to start acting like it.”

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