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Markey preps for visit to Amherst on Sunday

  • U.S. Sen. Edward Markey speaks during his town hall discussion in August 2017 at Forest Park Middle School in Springfield. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • Sen. Ed Markey holds a joint press conference with Pioneer Valley immigration activists, including local undocumented immigrants, on Jan. 3, in Washington, D.C., to call for greater legal protections for immigrants. SUBMITTED PHOTO

  • Local undocumented student activists on Monday share stories of their activism pushing federal lawmakers to support the Dream Act. SUBMITTED PHOTO



@dustyc123
Wednesday, January 24, 2018

AMHERST — During a visit to the Pioneer Valley for a town hall event on Sunday, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey will also meet with local immigration activists and Lucio Perez, the Guatemalan immigrant from Springfield who has taken up sanctuary at a local church to avoid deportation.

“It’s a very important visit,” Perez said by phone Monday, expressing his gratitude to Markey. “I’m super happy.”

Markey’s meeting with Perez at First Congregational Church is part of a visit to Amherst for the town hall, which will take place Sunday from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Amherst-Pelham Regional Middle School. Markey’s visit with Perez is a private event, which will also include local religious leaders, town officials, immigrants and activists.

“We are just so amazed, and have such great respect for the senator for making this courageous step to visit Lucio in sanctuary, to raise up the stories of so many immigrants that are facing state violence,” said Rose Bookbinder, a lead organizer with the Pioneer Valley Workers Center.

Activists with the Workers Center have recently pressed Markey to advocate for immigrant rights, including the Dream Act — a bill that would grant conditional residency, and then possible permanent residency, to immigrants who arrived in the United States as youth.

On Jan. 3, undocumented young people from western Massachusetts held a joint press conference with Markey to demand protection for those immigrants, as well others from countries like El Salvador or Haiti who face an uncertain future after the Trump administration stripped them of “temporary protected status.”

Amid a government shutdown tied to demands for immigrant protections, Senate Democrats voted 81 to 18 on Monday to advance a bill that would temporarily reopen the government for three weeks in exchange for a promise from Republicans to continue negotiating the fate of so-called “dreamers.”

Markey, however, was not among those voting for that stopgap funding bill, which many immigrant advocates criticized for delaying needed protections for “Dreamers.”

“The futures and families of #Dreamers will not be assured by a promise from Republican leadership,” he said on Twitter. “We need a long-term budget proposal that includes real protections for our Dreamers, not a short-term IOU.”

On Monday, local undocumented activists held a press conference at the Pioneer Valley Workers Center to share their disappointment, having just arrived from protesting in lawmakers’ offices in Washington, D.C. to see Democrats agree to reopen the government without support for the Dream Act secured.

“A lot of us can’t imagine our future without some kind of protection,” Julieta Rendon-Mendoza, a first-year Smith College student who has benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which shielded young people like her from deportation. “It’s a toll my community can’t take.”

President Barack Obama implemented DACA by executive order in 2012, allowing undocumented people who were brought to the United States before the age of 16 to live lives out of the shadows.

But the program will ultimately be phased out on March 5, 2018, after Trump rescinded it in September, calling on lawmakers to replace it. Monday’s compromise in the Senate means that the government will be funded until Feb. 8, which now functions as a deadline for lawmakers to come to an agreement on DACA and a potential Dream Act.

“I for one am really tired of being put through this uncertainty as part of a larger political deliberation,” Alejandro Nino, an Amherst College senior on DACA, said at the Workers Center press conference. “I think everyone is tired.”

The student activists had been in lawmakers’ offices, attempting to secure promises that they would support a “clean” Dream Act that wouldn’t compromise other immigrants’ security with provisions like increased funding for immigration enforcement actions. “Dreamers” number around 3 million of the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants, they said.

“We’re fighting for people like Lucio, who has been in sanctuary for months,” said Diana Umana, a Smith College junior. As young people, she said, the student activists are simply the face of a movement that hopes to achieve protections for their larger communities.

Though Sunday’s meeting with Perez is not open to the public, a spokesperson for Markey’s office said immigration issues will be one of the topics discussed at the town hall event.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.