By Alex Eng, deputy city editor
Approximately 600 residents and city officials including Mayor Martin J. Walsh attended a discussion on immigrant rights and refugee support at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) in Roxbury Friday evening.
The ISBCC hosted the “Immigrant and Refugee Community Forum” in reaction to President Donald J. Trump’s recent immigration ban and threats against sanctuary cities.
Walsh, who moderated a portion of the event, said Trump’s executive order barring immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries and its subsequent tumultuous rollout were an inappropriate solution to the greater problem of failed policy concerning immigration and counterterrorism.
“Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress and U.S. Senate [need to] sit down together and do the job they were elected to do […] and come up with comprehensive immigration reform so we can deal with the issue in front of us,” Walsh said. “That’s how we solve a problem, not by signing a name on an executive order.”
Walsh said Trump’s threat of revoking federal funding to cities declaring themselves as sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants – including Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Detroit, among others – was not something he feared.
“I’m not afraid of losing money, first of all, because we have the Constitution on our side, and secondly, we’re doing the right thing here in the City of Boston,” Walsh said. “[Sanctuary cities] are also all the major economic cities of the United States of America that generate all the wealth so the federal government can move forward.”
Some attendees were undocumented immigrants themselves, while others had families that were split up due to the travel ban. They raised concerns about deportation forces and divided households.
The 2014 TRUST Act prohibits Boston Police Department (BPD) officers from detaining individuals based on immigration status without a warrant unless they are wanted for a crime.
Alejandra St. Guillen, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Advancement, reaffirmed that BPD officers, some of whom were in attendance that evening, will not be at the disposal of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.
“The Boston police is not ICE,” St. Guillen said. “They are here to protect our residents and will continue to do so. That will not change in the City of Boston.”
The same protections apply to students and students whose family members are undocumented immigrants enrolled in Boston Public Schools (BPS), BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang said. He said ICE officers must receive consent from himself and the district attorney to enter BPS grounds.
“We do not let any ICE officials into our schools unless we’re forced to and the courts mandate us to do so,” Chang said.
Chang also introduced a new BPS website called “We Dream Together,” which includes information regarding hate crime hotlines, scholarships for immigrants and resources for students, families, educators and parents connected to the immigration crisis.
While city officials distributed resources and encouraged immigrants to become educated about their rights, ISBCC senior imam Shaykh Yasir Fahmy described the human aspect of the immigrant and refugee conflict.
“The very fabric and mosaic of America has only been enriched and beautified by the countless immigrants who have come here […] seeking that prophetic pursuit of betterment and upliftment and refuge,” Fahmy said. “We need to be a space that welcomes people who are in need and people who want our support because that’s what truly makes us a great country.”
Walsh concurred and said immigrants should reach out to one another in light of the federal government’s policies to deport them from the country.
“Talk to your neighbors. Let your neighbors know who you are. We’re all the same […] That’s how we are, and that’s the message we should fight back with,” Walsh said. “[Trump] wants to fight with hate. We’re going to fight back with love.”
Photo by Alex Eng