President Donald Trump has been outspoken about wanting to help American workers. But workers here who weren’t born in America don’t feel included in that sentiment.
For International Workers Day, or May Day, on May 1, dozens of immigrants and activists gathered on the steps of the Massachusetts State House to show support for immigrant labor and to urge the commonwealth to become a “sanctuary state.”
Between chants of “We are here to stay,” members of the Boston immigrant community, union leaders and state Sen. Jamie Eldridge spoke about the importance of recognizing immigrant labor.
“We know that the Trump administration is attacking our communities, and we are here to stay and here to be united,” Jose Palma, organizing director of the community group Neighbor to Neighbor, told the crowd. “We also know that the Trump administration’s approach is based on the ugly notion that America should expel 11 million hardworking undocumented immigrants, and that is wrong.”
One-fifth of Massachusetts workers are foreign-born, and immigrant households in the state pay $9.5 billion in federal and local taxes, according to the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
Immigrant-rights advocates argue that the president’s executive orders concerning travel bans and stricter deportation tactics are used to exploit immigrant workers and thus are a labor rights issue as well.
At the rally, Eldridge encouraged the support of the Safe Communities Act as a way to protect immigrant workers in Massachusetts. The bill, for which Eldridge is the Senate sponsor, would prevent state resources like local law enforcement from being used to enforce federal immigration law.
Eldridge commended towns and cities that proclaimed themselves as “sanctuaries,” but he said it is not enough to protect immigrants who have to cross town lines to get to work.
“It’s about protecting the dignity of every worker and family member in Massachusetts,” he said.
On Monday, Attorney General Maura Healey issued an advisory stating that her office “serves all workers, irrespective of immigration status, and does not inquire about an individual’s immigration status.”
Along with the rally, activists organized two marches that set off from Everett and East Boston and ended together in Chelsea, which proclaims that it is a "sanctuary city."
Elena Letona, a 56-year-old East Boston resident originally from El Salvador, said it was inspiring to see people rally for immigrant rights, especially on a day that has been monumental for workers’ rights in history.
“I do believe that Massachusetts can definitely be a leader across the United States in demonstrating what happens when we act from a place of love rather than from a place of fear,” she said. “I think it's very powerful that the immigrant rights movement has reclaimed May Day, and it reminds us that the roots of this day are here in the United States.”