BROCKTON — The crowded church hall was filled with music, chatter, and the sound of crying babies before US Representative Stephen F. Lynch stepped up to the front.
The room fell silent.
A member of the Brockton Interfaith Community asked whether Lynch intended to push for immigration reform and a path for citizenship in Congress.
Lynch’s response, which concluded with a hardy “Si!,” garnered a standing ovation from the 600 men, women, and children who had come for a kickoff for a campaign that will lobby for immigrants to gain access to citizenship.
The politician, who currently represents Quincy and Brockton, had come to a church to answer questions about his plans to work out a pathway to citizenship. Meanwhile, his Democratic rival Representative Edward J. Markey of Malden crisscrossed the state in an effort to win voters and collect signatures for the special Senate election.
At a Newton diner Saturday morning, Markey greeted Democrat heavy-hitters ready to spend the day stumping for the four-decade veteran of the US Congress and touching on his commitment to conservation and a woman’s right to choose. At Brockton's St. Patrick Parish, Lynch was largely unknown to the diverse group of immigration supporters, but won them over with talk of his past support of the Dream Act, federal legislation that provided a path to citizenship for young immigrants that was ultimately voted down in Congress.
That message was particularly pertinent during a Senate campaign that, so far, has not touched on the fraught issue of immigration.
“The Dream Act was very important, it was a very good bill, but it only addressed children,” Lynch said. “What we are working on now in the US Congress, with Democrats and Republicans together, is comprehensive immigration reform.”
Lynch painted a rosy picture of the country’s current immigration debate, and suggested that he would be the politician that would help bring about consensus and changes to federal legislation.
“We are today as close to good comprehensive immigration reform as we have ever been in this country,” Lynch said.
Erica Ramos, 28, who immigrated to the United States from Honduras nine years ago, said she welcomed Lynch’s statement of support in a political climate that she says too seldom focuses on the future of millions of immigrants living illegally in the United States.
“I’m glad to hear he’s working on it,” said Ramos, who lives in Attleboro.
Felipe Mizhirumbay, 29, one of the event’s leaders, said he felt Lynch’s statement energized the crowd.
“This is very, very, very important for us, because we know someone’s standing on our side,” said Mizhirumbay, of Brockton. “That was the moment I was waiting for.”
Teresa Aiello, another co-chair, became an American citizen about five years ago, and said Lynch’s statement of support was an encouraging message.
Still, she said, she’s not certain Lynch will be her choice on the primary ballot. She said she is eager to learn where Markey stands on immigration.
“I’ll have to think about it, and decide,” Aiello said.
Earlier Saturday, at Johnny’s Luncheonette in Newton, Senate candidate Markey made his stance on immigration clear, repeating points he has expressed in recent weeks on immigration reform. Markey said he supports President Obama’s immigration proposal, which includes providing a path to citizenship.
“The president has laid out a pathway which I think is a common-sense approach,” Markey said, adding that he wants Obama’s suggested plan to be “put on the table for a vote in the House and the Senate.”
Markey said he would challenge Tea Party Republicans who oppose granting citizenship to any of the millions of immigrants living in the United States illegally today. Some, Markey said, have earned the right to stay in the United States.
Markey spoke of his grandparents who emigrated from Ireland and settled in Malden.
“While the accents are different, the aspirations are the same for this new generation of immigrants,” Markey said.
The diner was packed with several dozen supporters, along with random passers-through hoping to nab a seat for brunch and visibly surprised to see the crowds and cameras.
After Markey made his way through the aisles of seats, shaking hands with families sitting down for their meals, Markey and several high-profile supporters discussed the important role Newton would play in the special election.
“This is the kind of place and the kind of support that has energized my campaign,” he said.
A supporter jokingly called out that it would be quite an achievement if Markey was not able to garner plenty ofsignatures in Newton, a city with a reputation for a powerful Democratic machine.
State Representative Ruth B. Balser, a Democrat from Newton, said she was confident that Markey would do well in her city.
“He is miles ahead of, shall I say, of his Democratic opponent, as well as his Republican opponents,” Balser said, mentioning Markey’s consistent support of abortion rights as well as universal health care.
State Treasurer Steven Grossman regaled Markey supporters with stories from their 43 years of friendship in political circles.
“I’ve never seen Ed shy away from the things that matter to working families, to women, to diverse communities, and to immigrant communities,” Grossman said.