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Somerville stands up for immigrant residents

Members of Somerville's Latino community show their support for the Temporary Protected Status resolution passed by the Board of Aldermen.
Members of Somerville's Latino community show their support for the Temporary Protected Status resolution passed by the Board of Aldermen. Centro Presente

Elizabeth Gutierrez’s voice quivered as she spoke before the Somerville Board of Aldermen last week. She told them how the disruption of a temporary residency program for some immigrants would break up her family.

“This is where our kids were born, it’s where our family is,” Gutierrez said.

Gutierrez is a US citizen from Guatemala who has lived in Somerville with her husband Ricardo, an El Salvador national, for 21 years. He lives in the US legally through the Department of Homeland Security’s Temporary Protected Status. The couple has two children.

A group of about 30 supporters — some holding red signs reading “Save TPS Now!” — cheered after the aldermen unanimously passed a resolution affirming their support for TPS at a July 13 meeting.

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The resolution states that the city of Somerville supports the continued legal residency through TPS for immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua as concern has grown among immigrant communities about the possibility it could be discontinued.

Under TPS, foreign nationals from 10 designated countries where issues such as armed conflict and natural disasters prevent them from safely returning may temporarily live and work in the US.

TPS status is set to expire in January for people from Haiti, Honduras, and Nicaragua, and in March for Salvadorans. The status of those with temporary legal status is typically extended, but some in the immigrant community worry the federal government, under President Donald Trump, may allow the program to expire, said Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente.

The immigrant rights group last year launched a campaign imploring local elected officials to voice support for immigrants protected by TPS, Montes said. Somerville is the second city in Massachusetts, after Cambridge, to pass a resolution.

“It sends a very important message to Washington that says the city of Somerville . . . recognizes that these people are important,” Montes said.

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For Mayor Joseph Curtatone, who filed the resolution along with Board of Aldermen President William White, the action amounts to an affirmation of values held by the city, which in February celebrated 30 years as a sanctuary city.

According to the latest estimates from the US Census Bureau for 2015, about 19,397 of the nearly 79,000 Somerville residents — about 25 percent — are foreign born.

Among them, about 200 Haitian nationals living in Somerville depend on TPS to retain legal residency, along with others from the other three countries specified in the resolution, Curtatone said.

“They’re our neighbors, they’re our friends, our kids go to school together,” the mayor said. “I think it’s going to take communities like Somerville big and small across this country . . . to stand up for American life.”

White said about 80 percent of women and 90 percent of men with TPS status nationally are employed, and deporting them could harm local economies in communities like Somerville.

According to a report issued by the Congressional Research Service, there were over 300,000 foreign nationals living in the US as of January.

Ben Echevarria, executive director of Somerville-based immigrant social services nonprofit The Welcome Project, said while he has not seen a large influx of clients concerned about their TPS status, the Board of Aldermen’s resolution is heartening to much of the city’s immigrant community.

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“I think it’s a nice gesture,” Echevarria said.“I think it goes to show what the spirit of Somerville is.”


Sean Teehan can be reached at spteehan@gmail.com.