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Activists denounce ICE deportations

High-profile cases stoke immigrants’ fears

Yawu Miller | 7/12/2017, 10:13 a.m.
Last week, immigrant activists gathered at the Boston Irish Famine memorial on Washington Street for a rally with U.S. Sen. ...
Roxana Rivera speaks as Francisco Rodriguez and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey look on. Banner photo

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s policy of targeting immigrants who have committed no crimes has sparked furor in Massachusetts, with two prominent cases grabbing headlines recently.

In one, Francisco Rodriguez, a janitor working at MIT who applied for asylum in 2009 after fleeing gang violence in El Salvador, was ordered out of the U.S. during a routine ICE hearing. In another, undocumented Irish contractor John Cunningham was nabbed by ICE agents at his Brighton home and deported after 18 years in the U.S.

Last week, immigrant activists gathered at the Boston Irish Famine memorial on Washington Street for a rally with U.S. Sen. Ed Markey protesting anti-immigration legislation in Congress and what they described as the Trump administration’s “mass deportation strategy.”

“We have a president who is attempting to change the very fabric of the country,” Markey said, citing the administration’s travel ban on predominantly Muslim nations, the $25 billion planned border wall with Mexico and the $7 billion allocated to ICE for detaining and deporting undocumented immigrants.

Standing a block away from the site of the Boston Massacre, an event many mark as the opening salvo in the American Revolution, Markey called on union members and immigration activists to rebel against the Trump policies.

“It begins here,” he said. “We were the origin of the American Revolution, of the abolition movement. It started here. We are the revolutionaries. We are the people who stood up for those most in need, since the beginning of our country.”

Roxana Rivera, who heads the SEIU 32BJ local, said legislation in Congress poses a threat to cities like Boston that refuse to cooperate with the ICE push to detain and deport undocumented workers who have not committed criminal offenses.

“The two House bills would financially punish welcoming cities just for following the constitution, and create a system for the mandatory long-term incarceration of thousands of immigrants, some of whom may be guilty of no more than a traffic offense,” she said.

Eva Milona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, called on local elected officials to fight the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

“These bills are the reflection of President Trump’s costly and cruel approach to immigration by scapegoating immigrants; undercutting local law enforcement and prosecution efforts; giving even more authority to immigration enforcement agencies ICE and DHS; and ramping up deportations beyond the currently outrageous levels,” she said.

Milona added that while most Massachusetts congressional representatives are supportive of immigrant rights, representatives William Keating and Stephen Lynch voted for a law that would impose harsh penalties on immigrants who are deported, then re-enter the United States illegally. Lynch also supported a law that would bar immigrants from access to health coverage provided under the Affordable Care Act.

“We need all our Massachusetts elected officials – at the state and federal level – to stand up for immigrants,” she said.

Milona and other speakers also urged Massachusetts legislators to pass the Safe Communities Act, which would ban Massachusetts participation in any Muslim registry, ensure basic due process rights for anyone detained for immigration status violations and bar police departments from participating in immigration enforcement activities.

“Massachusetts needs to lead by example,” Milona said. “That is why I urge all our elected officials: Listen to your constituents and fight back against any attempt to scapegoat immigrants.”