More than 300 new Americans, refugees, legislators and allies came together at the Massachusetts State House on Tuesday to show that they are standing strong against threats made President-elect Donald Trump about deporting immigrants and banning refugees.
The occasion was "Our Shared Table," the annual Thanksgiving luncheon hosted by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). The luncheon welcomes immigrants and refugees to break bread with legislators who have fought for them for the past twelve years.
MIRA is the largest immigrant and refugee organization in New England and helps integrate and protect the rights of the Commonwealth’s one million foreign-born residents.
“My message here today is very simple. I stand with immigrants and immigrant communities and my office does, too,” Attorney General Maura Healey said to a roar of applause.
Healey announced on Monday a new hotline that Bay Staters can call if they experience bias-motivated threats, violence or harassment. Speaking in front of immigrants and refugees, Healey called on everyone to take out their phone and save the hotline number: 1-800-994-3228.
“I know this is a time of a lot of unease and a lot of sadness, when we look around and we take in what is happening across this country and even here in our state,” Healey said. “But folks, from my perspective, now is the time to do what we do best: to show love towards one another, to show compassion for one another and you better believe it, to show a whole lot of conviction that nothing and no one is going to take back our rights.”
The theme for this year’s Thanksgiving lunch was about standing together in unity, “with all new Americans who make our Commonwealth stronger,” said MIRA Executive Director Eva Millona. She spoke of MIRA’s successes over the past year, which include helping more than 20,000 people become citizens and conducting a voter initiative to ensure that new Americans and first-time voters were part of the process.
Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Jamaica Plain, highlighted immigrant contributions to the Commonwealth, noting that 8 percent of Fortune 500 businesses in Massachusetts were founded by immigrants and how more than 8,000 non-citizens enlist in the U.S. armed forces every year.
One of those success stories is Emmanuel Franjul, a partner at Frontier Capital Management who came to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic as a 15-year-old boy. Franjul reminded the crowd why Thanksgiving is celebrated, speaking about the pilgrims who “risked their lives” crossing an ocean so they could worship a god of their choosing and how they struggled in the harsh conditions until Native Americans aided them.
“Many of us can relate to this story; It is the story of many immigrants,” Franjul said. “Twenty years ago, my mother, brother and I set foot in this country. We didn’t speak the language, we didn’t have place to stay and we didn’t know where our next meal would come from. Much like the pilgrims, we really relied on the generosity of those that were already here before us.”
As everyone celebrated, however, Millona noted that “we also grapple with the reality of a Donald Trump presidency and what it could mean for immigrant communities.”
State Sen, Jamie Eldridge, a Democrat from Acton, assured the attendees that he will refile the Massachusetts Trust Act of January, a bill that he said “will clarify that it is not the responsibility of the Massachusetts law enforcement agencies, state police and local police to enforce federal immigration law and [will] direct Massachusetts law responders not to detain individuals for federal immigration purposes.”
Throughout the event, Eldridge, state Sen. Jason Lewis—an immigrant himself who came to the U.S. from South Africa at 12 years old—and other speakers echoed Healey’s sentiment as their rallying cry: “We stand with you.”