In the basement of an East Boston church, hundreds of immigrants from El Salvador found solace and encouragement Sunday afternoon in the Bible’s ultimate underdog story.
They compared themselves to David, the Old Testament shepherd, and President Donald Trump to Goliath, the Philistine nemesis David defeated on the battlefield using only a slingshot.
The majority of the more than 400 people who gathered at the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church Sunday were proud of what they’ve accomplished while working for years under Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States to make a better life for their families.
In the room were activists, immigrant advocates, organizations such as the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, Jobs with Justice, and representatives from several local unions and churches, as well as other supporters.
“We are all children of God,” said Gloria Ramirez, 66, a Grafton resident and undocumented immigrant from El Salvador in Spanish. “We all have power, faith, values, and determination.”
The event was organized by the Massachusetts TPS Committee to educate and encourage immigrants in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to end the federal humanitarian immigration program referred to as TPS for about 200,000 Salvadorans in the United States.
Starting in March, they have 18 months to leave or attain legal status.
Temporary Protected Status allows immigrants who cannot be safely repatriated to their countries because of civil disruptions or natural disasters to live and work in the United States legally.
Trump provoked shock and bipartisan criticism last week after Senator Richard J. Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, and others accused the president of asking, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” while discussing protections for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, and African countries in an Oval Office meeting on Thursday.
Republican senators and White House aides have disputed that account.
The controversial statement Trump allegedly made followed Monday’s announcement to end TPS for immigrants from El Salvador — rated the world’s most violent country for 2015 and 2016 by the Igarapé Institute, a Brazilian think tank, which has not yet released numbers for 2017.
“Who here has had it easy in this country?” Carlos Chacon, another committee member asked in Spanish to the crowd of people. Most laughed or shook their heads. “We’ve built a family, we’ve built our homes, a culture, and that has a lot of significance. We belong in this society, that some racist demagogue doesn’t want to give us that right. We’ll show him we have the right to be here.”
Going back to El Salvador isn’t an option, said Jose Palma, coordinator of the committee. Palma and others said they were prepared to fight for the lives they’ve built in the United States and to not be separated from their children, many of whom are US citizens.
The committee is raising money to go to Washington, D.C., in February to speak to Congress.
Sunday they let people know about bills related to TPS going through the process in several states.
“We’re in a very important moment where we as TPS-holders have to organize ourselves, have to continue speaking to our allies,” Palma said. “We know there’s a large population around the country that speaks against immigrants, but we also know that the majority are in favor and are willing to work with us toward a permanent solution.”
East Boston resident Guadalupe Gonzalez, 59, said she’s been telling her neighbors to come to these meetings but many had not listened until Trump started taking actions against some living in the United States under TPS.
“If we unite ourselves in this fight we can be more powerful than the president,” Gonzalez said in Spanish. “El Salvador is my country and I love it a lot, but the problem first was the war, the destruction. The second problem is there isn’t any work for people older than 20 years of age.
“Another problem is while the storm isn’t looming, people don’t do anything,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez came here wanting a better future for her three sons, all born in El Salvador.
“People didn’t believe this could happen to us, that it was a lie, and now they’re getting desperate. And since they’re not informed, they’re assuming ICE is going deport them now.”
Earlier in the day, a small group of immigration activists rallied on Boston Common at the Parkman Bandstand and marched across the Common in opposition to the Trump administration’s announcement that it will end TPS for Salvadoran immigrants.
“No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA,” the marchers chanted, a refrain familiar at protests against policies and statements from President Trump that opponents view as racist.
Kellie M. Jones, director of bilingual education at Brockton Public Schools, became emotional as she explained why she came to the rally.
“I couldn’t stay at home,” Jones said, breaking into tears, “because of our kids. Look at kids and families in their faces, and tell them they’re ‘shitholes.’ Tell them their families are ‘shitholes,’ their home countries are ‘shitholes.’ They’re getting these messages from the president of the United States.”
State Representative Denise Provost, a Somerville Democrat, was critical of Trump as she addressed the small crowd gathered near steps leading to the State House, and pledged her support for immigrants who have been protected by TPS.
“Folks who have temporary protected status came here for a good reason; they came here lawfully and have enjoyed lawful status here for a long time,” Provost told the ralliers.
“Our country has a responsibility to everyone with TPS, to all of their families, to their employers, to their neighbors and friends, not to disrupt their lives,” she continued, “but to continue their status and make it possible for them to achieve legal permanent residence and citizenship, if they want to become citizens.”Cristela Guerra can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.