Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com
Vivian learned she was in the US illegally during her freshman year in high school, but initially she believed that her status would prevent her from attending college but have few other consequences.
She learned differently in August 2011, when her mother gave her some upsetting news, she said.
“She came home crying like I’d never seen her cry, and she just told me, ‘Your dad’s with ICE,’” Vivian said, referring to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal law enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security that deals with border security and illegal immigration.
Vivian, 19, who asked that her last name not be used because of her immigration status, was one of about 30 immigration reform activists who rallied outside Boston City Hall at lunchtime Wednesday before marching down Tremont Street to the headquarters of the Student Immigrant Movement.
That organization coordinated the event, in cooperation with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network. Inside the office, activists held a teach-in on immigration issues where Vivian and others shared personal stories.
Vivian said that by November 2011 her father had been deported, after spending time in an immigrant detention center where his health declined as a medical condition went untreated.
She came to the US from Guatemala with her mother and her sister when she was 8, Vivian said, to reunite with her father, who had already lived here for about 7 years. She now lives in Lynn.
Their journey was difficult, but she quickly grew to love the US and her family’s new life here, Vivian said. Today, though, her mother also is in poor health and can no longer work, she said, forcing to take a job and support her family.
“It’s still a struggle with us right now, especially my mom, because she has very severe rheumatoid arthritis,” she said. “I don’t want any other family members to go through the same pain and struggle that we’ve been going through.”
Wednesday’s rally, march, and teach-in were part of a national week of pro-immigrant actions called “Not One More.” Locally, those events have included a hunger strike on Monday night among immigrants detained at the Suffolk Detention Center, according to the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition.
“Everywhere we go, people want to know, who we are, so we tell them, we are the DREAMers, the mighty, mighty DREAMers,” they chanted, referring to the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act that would provide permanent residency to immigrants who came to the US as children, graduate from high school, and either serve in the military or complete four years of college.
Massachusetts is one of a dozen states that have passed some form of the DREAM Act, but it has not been successful at the federal level.
Organizers hope this week’s events will highlight the struggles of illegal immigrants as the US Congress considers immigration reform measures that could provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the US.
On Monday the Senate endorsed a proposal that would create that pathway while also improving border security.
Activists who participated in Wednesday’s events included immigrants from Brazil, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Zambia, as well as American-born supporters. They said they live now in such communities as Lawrence, Medford, Revere, Brookline, Cambridge, Hopkinton, Attleboro, and neighborhoods all over Boston, though more than a half-dozen call East Boston home.
Carlos Rojas Álvarez led a discussion on the use of prosecutorial discretion and how advocates for immigrants facing deportation may request that a prosecutor elect not to force them out of the country, but he also shared some of his personal story.
Rojas Álvarez, 19, is an East Boston resident who came with his family from Colombia 14 years ago, he said. He described himself as “undocumented and unafraid,” but said his mother is not so fearless.
“Every single day she goes to work afraid she’s going to be stopped,” he said.
Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com