CHELSEA — After a predawn shift frying pupusas, a cook from Guatemala couldn’t stay up to watch Donald J. Trump’s speech on immigration. A 59-year-old baker from El Salvador missed it, too. As midnight approached, she was filling dozens of jelly doughnuts at Dunkin’ Donuts.

But Irma Giron watched the speech from beginning to end, and Trump’s pledge to deport unauthorized immigrants, or prevent them from becoming citizens, drove a chill down her spine.

“It feels so shameful,” the 39-year-old from El Salvador said Thursday as she waited for a ride on Broadway. “This ugly situation.”

In his speech on immigration Wednesday night, Trump made clear that Chelsea, Cambridge, Somerville, and other US cities that have offered sanctuary to unauthorized immigrants would become targets if he were elected president. He vowed to strip the cities of federal funding if they refused to help deport unauthorized immigrants.


In a city like Chelsea, where nearly half the residents are immigrants, many could be subject to deportation under Trump’s plan. And in Somerville, where about 24 percent of the residents are immigrants, the mayor blasted Trump on Thursday.

“I think it’s time for people to stand up and call Donald Trump for what he is. He’s a liar, and he’s a bigot,” said Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone. “These undocumented immigrants that Donald Trump is attacking, they’re our neighbors. They contribute to this economy, and they love this country as much as you and me. And they love it more than Donald Trump.”

Sanctuary declarations are often symbolic, but they vary by city. Generally, they seek to welcome all immigrants and encourage them to get involved in civic life. But some cities, including Somerville, have recently taken firmer steps to limit police cooperation with federal immigration officials.

Roy Avellaneda, a Chelsea city councilor at large, defended sanctuary cities Thursday, saying he wants unauthorized immigrants to be able to call the police or fire department without fear of being deported.


“I don’t think [Trump] has an understanding of what it means to be a sanctuary city, and I doubt very much that the communities that are designated a sanctuary will lose their funding,” said Avellaneda, who pushed for the designation in 2007. “It’s great rhetoric but not realistic. It’s not something that’s really going to happen.”

Julia Perez, who is originally from Guatemala, held her almost 4-year-old granddaughter Valery.
Julia Perez, who is originally from Guatemala, held her almost 4-year-old granddaughter Valery.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

But that is cold comfort to the more than 39,000 immigrants largely from Central America who live in this bustling city or are constantly passing through.

Many immigrants say they are just as concerned as Trump about crime, and even in this sanctuary city police have often worked with federal immigration officials to root out MS-13 gang members and other criminals to deport them.

“For criminals, fine, they do bad things, but what will they do with working people who are not doing anything?” said Julia Perez, a 54-year-old legal resident from Guatemala, as she waited with her 3-year-old granddaughter for the spin cycle to end at Full Service Laundry on Broadway. “We’re not all bad people.”

An owner of the laundromat agreed.

“Criminals, I probably would agree with that,” said Jim Chan, 30, as he manned the counter. But he said Trump wouldn’t get his vote.

“A lot of the things he says I don’t agree with.”

Chan said many immigrant families were just like his: His late father swam for hours to flee China in the 1980s, eventually making his way to Hong Kong and then to the United States, where he washed dishes in Boston’s Chinatown, bought properties, and moved to Newton. He sent two children to college, including Chan, who because of China’s one-child policy at the time, knows that if it were not for the United States, he wouldn’t exist. He is the second son.


“I think this is the best country in the world,” Chan said.

In Chelsea, immigrants make up 44 percent of city residents, the highest percentage in the state, and many dream of following a path similar to one taken by Chan. But their legal statuses are complex. Some Central Americans have temporary work permits that protect them from deportation but will never lead to citizenship. Some have no legal permission to be here at all. And some are citizens or green card holders.

Often people with all these statuses are part of the same extended family.

Though Trump is trailing in the polls, many immigrants said they are fearful because they have much to lose if he is elected. Gangs, drug trafficking, and other crime have ravaged El Salvador, for example, and it now has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Many immigrants said they are terrified to return home, even to visit.

Two months ago, Giron sent money home to bury her brother. Santos Amadeo Giron, a shopkeeper, was shot and killed in the city of Metapan, allegedly by gang members who tried to extort $10,000 from him. Some gang members think relatives of immigrants have money, even though many are struggling to make ends meet for $10 an hour.


Giron’s family said it was too dangerous for her to go home for his funeral. She is lucky to have temporary protected status, which allows her to live here and work, but if Trump is elected, she said, that could be taken away.

And now she has much more to lose: three US-born children aged 17, 12, and 10.

“I’m very afraid,” she said. “I don’t want to leave my daughters.”

Irma Giron, 39, of East Boston talked about her brother who was murdered in El Salvador as she waited for the bus in Chelsea.
Irma Giron, 39, of East Boston talked about her brother who was murdered in El Salvador as she waited for the bus in Chelsea. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Maria Sacchetti can be reached at maria.sacchetti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @mariasacchetti