Immigrant activists share stories before Northampton council; resolution in the works

@BeraDunau
Published: 2/16/2018 12:46:06 AM

NORTHAMPTON — As the United States Senate fails to take decisive action on immigration and the future of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, immigration activists in the Pioneer Valley continue to draw attention to immigrant rights issues.

On Thursday, Eduardo Samaniego, 25, a student at Hampshire College and organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, joined 10 other “Dreamers” in an approximately 250-mile walk from New York City to Washington, D.C., to demand the passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

“We want a DREAM Act now,” said Samaniego, speaking the day before setting off.

Dreamers are immigrants who illegally came to this country when they were children or underage teenagers. DACA provides protection from deportation and the ability to work legally in the United States for some dreamers, who must register with the government in order to gain its protections. Although DACA is set to expire on March 5, recent federal court rulings will preserve its protections beyond this date for recipients, if not struck down.

Thursday saw multiple bills that address the dreamer issue fail to advance in the Senate, putting action on it in doubt.

Samaniego does not qualify for DACA because he came to the United States at age 16. However, he would be included in some version of the DREAM Act being proposed in the Senate, but not others.

The walk started at the World War I Memorial in New York City on Thursday, and is set to end at the Capitol Building on March 1.

“I personally feel energized,” Samaniego said.

Samaniego said that millions of children will be watching the group’s progress, and that the marchers would be staying in family homes, churches, synagogues and the offices of immigrant rights organizations as they make their journey.

However, he also said that the group would face a backlash, noting negative reactions that have been received on Facebook and Twitter, with some vowing to intercept the marchers. Samaniego said that the group was walking for a DREAM Act that gives a path to citizenship “without throwing other communities under the bus.” As such, he expressed opposition to restrictions on legal immigration and a wall on the Mexican border that are being tied to some DACA proposals.

‘Moment of unity’

Another demonstration in support of dreamers came on Feb. 8, when the Jewish Alliance for Law & Social Action and Pioneer Valley Workers Center rallied outside Northampton City Hall in a protest that reportedly drew more than 300 people in support of a clean DREAM Act.

“It was a moment of unity here in Northampton and across the Valley,” Samaniego said.

“I thought it was wonderful,” said Alice Levine, who helped organize the demonstration, which included many co-sponsors.

Levine, who has been working on immigrant rights and Central American issues for several years, said that the protest took its lead from the dreamers.

“We really wanted to take the lead from them,” she said.

Levine noted that the action featured songs from both the Jewish and immigrant rights traditions. She also said that several Jewish congregations in western Massachusetts are considering becoming sanctuary congregations.

Northampton council

The Northampton City Council is also weighing in on the immigration issue. At its meeting Thursday, councilors sent a resolution supporting Temporary Protected Status for all nationals who cannot safely return to their home countries to committee, in order to incorporate additional language advocated for by immigrants rights activists.

The council initially OK’d the resolution at its Feb. 1 meeting, and is expected to take a second vote on the measure when it comes out of committee.

TPS is given to citizens of other countries living in the United States in the wake of humanitarian and natural disasters, in acknowledgment that returning to those countries would be too dangerous for them.

Last year, the Trump administration ended TPS for Haiti and Nicaragua, while delaying a decision on extending the status for Honduras to July. In January, the decision was made to not extend TPS for El Salvador, where most individuals currently receiving TPS are from.

City Council resolutions have no force of law, but express the opinion of the council on a subject. The resolution is sponsored by Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge, Councilor At-Large William Dwight and Ward 3 Councilor James Nash.

“I have never seen anything like this in my life,” said LaBarge, in the Feb. 1 discussion. “The way immigrants are being treated is unacceptable.”

At Thursday’s meeting, four people currently utilizing the TPS program spoke before the council. All four have children and have been living in the United States for more than a decade.

Emma Munoz, who has lived in the United States for 18 years, said that the loss of TPS would mean that she would be unable to keep her driver’s license. As such, she would be unable to drive her 7-year-old daughter, who has epilepsy and goes to Bridge Street School, to medical appointments.

Irma Munoz, who has lived in the United States for 17 years, talked about her 13-year-old son.

“He may be forcibly recruited by gangs in El Salvador if he were to return,” she said, as translated by Diana Sierra.

Sierra, who teaches Latin American history at Smith College and was once undocumented herself, asked the immigrant workers there to stand in her comment period, which they did to applause. She said that her comrades included those receiving TPS, DACA and undocumented immigrants.

“We are fighting one fight for our rights and dignity,” she said. “We really see this as one fight.”

Speaking before the resolution was discussed, Nash praised the TPS recipients who spoke. “It was very moving,” said Nash.

“I applaud your courage.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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