Chelsea successfully defeats anti-immigrant legislation

BOSTON — “We're talking about victims of rape and strangulation,' said Gladys Ortiz, Court Advocate Coordinator with REACH Beyond Domestic Violence, before a rally of over 200 immigrants and advocates on the front steps of the State House this morning. “Budget amendment 575 is a weapon that we are giving to their abusers to destroy these victims.”

Introduced by Taunton State Representative Shauna O' Connell, amendment #575 would deny public housing to residents without a social security number. This could potentially deny housing to torture victims in the process of applying for asylum, families with U.S. citizen children, and many other classes of immigrants, including victims of domestic violence. In some cases, these victims need public housing as a means of escaping their abusers while they apply for immigration visas.

In response, the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition organized a rally to protest the amendment, along with several other amendments targeting undocumented immigrants for discrimination. “We're gathered here to shine a disinfecting light on anti-immigrant amendments,” said Shannon Erwin, State Policy Director at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

“Many immigrant survivors have so few options that they stay in abusive relations,” explained Michaela Moshier, Legal Advocacy Specialist with HarborCOV. “Access to safe, affordable housing when these victims are in their most vulnerable situations can actually be life saving.”

“Abusers tell their victims that they can't escape because no one cares for them,” she continued. “If an amendment like this passes, we're saying that these threats are true, and that [Massachusetts] won't protect victims of domestic violence.”

“Housing is a fundamental human right for all survivors of abuse, not just SOME survivors of abuse,” she concluded.

Other speakers also decried amendment #345, which would deny aid to cities and towns that have declared themselves Sanctuary cities. “The state has no cause to cut funding from municipalities that are standing up for basic human rights,” said Laura Wagner, Executive Director of U.U. Mass Action. “We're not about welcoming immigrants, we're about welcoming all human beings,” explained Gladys Vega, Executive Director of the Chelsea Collaborative, whose home city is one of those targeted by the amendment.

Another member of the Chelsea Collaborative, a young immigrant named Eric, spoke simply about the right to stay in public housing: “People in Chelsea treat us like they treat everybody else. We all pay our taxes; we work hard; we love this country. But some people in the State House think they're better than us. We all should have the same right to housing.”

“I spoke the other day at a community center full of moms and happy kids playing,” said Zoila Lopez, a domestic violence survivor and member of Latinas Know Your Rights. “If the legislature removes their homes, they're going to make these kids' lives miserable.”

Despite the grim measures that the rally protested, the mood overall was of joyous empowerment. Members of the Chelsea Collaborative arrived at the gathering blaring “Si, se puede!” from a bullhorn, and cheers erupted when the Student Immigrant Movement arrived in force from Park Street.

“We stayed out here a few years ago protesting the anti-immigrant amendments from the Senate for 19 days and 18 nights,” said SIM member Renata Teodoro. “We're not going to let them do this again. We're going to stand and protect our communities.”
At the close of the rally, the gathering was joined by members of the Boston Homeless Solidarity Committee. “We're happy to stand in solidarity with all of you,” said Committee member Cleve Rae. “We don't need shelters; we need more housing for everybody.”

Other groups participating in the event included the Brazilian Women's Group, the Irish International Immigrant Center, the Dominican Women's Group, Jane Doe, and the Boston Tenant's Coalition, among others.