This story was originally published in the Somerville Journal.
Since moving into the White House, the Trump administration has proposed multiple policies affecting immigrants throughout the country and the world.
While supporters of President Donald Trump say the policies will better protect the country, critics say they are unjust and place targets on immigrants.
Through the nation-wide debates, both Somerville and Boston vowed to remain sanctuary cities, and now activists are pushing the state to follow in their footsteps.
On Tuesday morning, demonstrators gathered at the Statehouse in support of immigrants and to urge Gov. Charlie Baker to support the Safe Communities Act.
Sponsored by Sen. James Eldridge, the act prohibits local and state officials from creating a Muslim or other religious registry, requires due process for immigrants held in detention, prevents local and state police from becoming immigration officials and says local police resources won’t be used for federal immigration authorities.
Organized by Indivisible Somerville, the rally featured a handful of speakers, including Executive Director of the Somerville-based Welcome Project Ben Echevarria, Rep. Denise Provost, Cambridge City Councillors Marc McGovern and Nadeem Mazen, and Rev. Vernon K. Walker.
“A vanguard of change”
Lead organizer at Indivisible Somerville Abby Brockman said by opposing the act, the Massachusetts administration is building fear rather than trust.
Though Baker has spoken against Trump’s policies, Brockman said the group wants more action.
“(Immigrants) aren’t getting the support they need,” she said at the rally. “We’re here to have safer communities for everybody.”
Walker said the state has always been a home to pioneers, dating back to the Boston Tea Party in the 1700s.
“Historically, I know that Massachusetts has been one of the shining lights for the nation,” he said. “Today, we call on the legislators to embrace the Safe Communities Act and let us again be the vanguard of change.”
In February, Newton became a sanctuary city, joining Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Lawrence.
Nearly one-third of Somerville residents are immigrants and because of the city’s status, said Echevarria, there is diverse business ownership. The city, he added, is proud to have sanctuary status — people feel safe in the community and work tirelessly to improve it.
“Policies like a Safe Communities Act … guarantee that immigrants don’t need to hide in the shadows,” said Echevarria.
Following in Somerville and other cities’ footsteps, he said, would foster a better and more inclusive community for all.
Provost said right now, without this act, people are living in fear, immigrants worried their status will unexpectedly change. How can the state expect to thrive if residents are scared for the future?
“We want a community that embodies American principles of equality and freedom,” said Provost. “How can you be free and equal if there is this cloud hanging over your status, or that of a loved family member? How can you even take advantage of the rights you have?”
Massachusetts has a high population of immigrants, totaling more than one million in 2013. Enforcing the Safe Communities Act, said Provost, would reverse this fear with trust.
More work to do
Despite the fact that Massachusetts is a predominantly liberal state, said Echevarria, there is a lot of work to be done to further support immigrants.
Though the bill is not expected to pass this time around, Mazen said Massachusetts typically upholds a commitment to moral values, and if everyone across the state shows their support then change will come.
“If we cannot pass this and pass this easily, we have to ask ourselves what has become of Massachusetts,” he said. “The movement is just beginning, and we all know we have the strength, we have the connections, we have the moral high ground to win this issue and win it strongly.”
The next time a rally like this is held, added Mazen, more people must stand in solidarity.
McGovern echoed Mazen’s sentiments, saying supporters of the bill must push legislators to pass it. The state’s most vulnerable citizens are currently being attacked, he said, when they should be protected.
“It’s incumbent on us as city and state leaders to actively resist and push back against the hatred coming out of the White House,” said McGovern. “On behalf of the city of Cambridge, we love (immigrants), we respect them and we will fight for them.”