Late Wednesday morning, if only for an instant, the basement of the State House was completely silent. Hundreds of pairs of eyes closed as an estimated 200 participants from faith-based organizations, immigrant advocacy groups, and progressive action groups stood together in prayer.
“We are here today to speak for love, to stand against unspeakable cruelty that rips children from the arms of their parents,” said Rev. Kathleen McTigue, director of the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice.
After a solemn “amen,” the group began a slow march through the State House, singing songs and attempting to deliver letters of support for a proposed amendment to the state budget that would offer protections to immigrants in Massachusetts.
“This amendment will protect the rights that people already have,” said Laura Wagner, the executive director of the Unitarian Universalist Mass Action Network and one of the chief organizers for the rally. “We are not talking about people convicted of violent crimes here. We are talking about families who want to stay together.”
The amendment, proposed by Democrat Senator Jamie Eldridge of Acton, has four provisions. First, local police would be barred from inquiring about immigration status on routine stops or arrests. Second, local police would inform immigrants who are in custody of their rights in a language they understand. The amendment would prevent state resources from being used to create or contribute to a registry based on characteristics such as religion or nationality. And it would prohibit local law enforcement from entering immigration agreements with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“It has become extremely obvious what the Trump administration’s xenophobic rhetoric means,” said Eldridge, who has worked on similar legislation for several years. “We have an opportunity in Massachusetts to push back against this, and we are asking that people who are detained are given basic due process rights. These are very common sense measures.”
Eldridge said he heard the singing through the walls of the Senate president’s office while in caucus Wednesday.
“My confidence is increasing,” he said about the amendment’s chances. “The entire session has been really inspiring and very impressive.”
The budget amendment passed the Senate with a large majority but was not included in the House version of the budget. Governor Charlie Baker has stated that he would veto the amendment if it came to his desk. His office criticized the measure on Wednesday.
“This amendment does not address the issue of creating clear guidelines for state and local law enforcement to work with federal immigration officials to detain violent and dangerous criminals convicted of heinous crimes like rape and murder, as the governor’s legislation would,” said Brendan Moss, press secretary for Baker.
The governor has put forth a bill that would permit local law enforcement to detain certain unauthorized immigrants at the request of federal officials. The bill was written in response to a Supreme Judicial Court ruling that found local police currently do not have the authority to hold an immigrant for federal officials. Baker’s bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee, where it was sent for further study.
Despite an uncertain future for the budget amendment, many at the rally drew on personal experience to explain their support of the measure.
“Families are really afraid to report crime or abuse by their landlords,” said Paola Miranda, 32, who uses her legal background to help low-income minority single mothers. “People are living in really awful situations with toilets that are not working, with mice, but they are afraid to come forward because they don’t have status.”
Some at the rally had uncles trying to get green cards, or know congregants who are struggling with immigration issues. Some remembered their own families’ struggles getting to America.
“My father is a Holocaust survivor who was separated from his family,” said Shana Berger, 43. “So, that’s why I’m here.”
She stood with her 8-month-old son, Isaiah, strapped across her chest, one of the many parents who had taken children to the rally.
“They’re no threat; they’re our future,” said author A. David Lewis, 40, a parent and teacher, as he spoke of immigrant families and children. “I hope this amendment continues to reaffirm Boston and Massachusetts as a place of safety, tolerance, and hope.”
State lawmakers are in discussions to finalize the state budget, which is expected to be ratified around July 1.Nierenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.