A group of about 50 people, some wearing orange shirts and plastic prison shackles around their ankles and wrists in solidarity for imprisoned immigrants, marched through downtown Boston Saturday to protest the current impasse on immigration reform.
Organizers of the event, one of several demonstrations taking place throughout the country this weekend, say that the government continues to break up thousands of families in Massachusetts and throughout the nation by deporting noncriminals.
And inefficient immigration policies, they argue, are also causing what President Obama this month called a “humanitarian crisis” at the Mexican border. Tens of thousands of children, mostly from Central America, have made the perilous journey to the United States alone because their families believe this gives them a better shot at legal residency.
“Our goal today is to stop the separation of families nationwide,” said Cristina Aguilera, an organizer for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, which spearheaded the march. “Locally, to pass the Trust Act in Massachusetts is the priority.”
The demonstrators — parents walking with children or pushing along strollers, teenagers, and gray-haired men and women — wended through Boston Common, past tourist groups led by guides dressed in Colonial garb. “Hey, Obama, don’t deport my mama,” they shouted throughout the march, getting smiles from passersby in response.
They stopped for a few minutes at the State House, directing cries of “shame on you” at the meeting place of Massachusetts legislators.
“Yes, [federal politicians] aren’t doing their job, but you’re not doing your job either,” Aguilera shouted through a megaphone.
Last week, a bill that would have granted driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants was rejected by state lawmakers.
The Trust Act, which would limit the ability of local law enforcement to hand immigrants over to federal authorities for minor violations, is pending in the State House, though Mayor Martin J. Walsh indicated last week that he would be willing to sign similar legislation for the city.
Boston is among a wave of local municipalities and states passing their own reforms in the face of federal inaction. The House of Representatives has not acted on a comprehensive bill passed in the Senate last June that would have bolstered the overworked immigration court system and added more opportunities for legal immigration.
Protesters at the march recalled the unkept promises of Republicans to act on immigration after President Obama commanded a convincing majority of Hispanic voters in the last election. But in the eyes of some participants, Obama’s efforts have also fallen short.
“It’s not enough,” said Samantha Almeida, 31, who came to Boston from Brazil when she was 16 and missed the cutoff age for a defrrred action policy introduced by the Obama administration in 2012. “I’m afraid to drive, and attending college is too expensive.”
But Jessica Vaughan, director of policy studies for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank, said deportations only affect people with criminal records, and any more reductions would undermine the system. Not reporting illegal immigrants could allow them to commit crimes.
“There’s not much more that can be done without totally suspending the law,” she said.
Carlos Arredondo, an activist who gained national recognition after being photographed helping victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, marched with his wife, Melida. Arredondo, a US citizen who emigrated from Costa Rica, said they were there for separated families and children crossing the border.
“We know what it’s like to be an immigrant,” he said. “We need a lot of these people.”
The march finished at the North End Parks, which, along a fence, features an exhibit with photos and quotes from different immigrants, a symbolic endpoint, Aguilera said.
“Many of our families are behind fences and bars; many children are crossing fences,” she said. “This is a call to action.”