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‘Dreamers’ make case to Markey

  • Sen. Ed Markey enters First Congregational Church of Amherst, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2018, with Caroline Murray and Rose Bookbinder for a meeting with Lucio Perez of Springfield, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant facing deportation, who was given sanctuary at the church. Murray is an Amherst Town Meeting member and helped the town become a sanctuary city. Bookbinder is a lead organizer for the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, which organized the meeting. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sen. Ed Markey, left, and Lucio Perez, third from left, enter a room for a meeting Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 at First Congregational Church of Amherst. Perez of Springfield, who is an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who is facing deportation, has been given sanctuary at the church. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sen. Ed Markey, second from right, talks with Lucio Perez of Springfield, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2018 at First Congregational Church of Amherst. Beside them are Lucy, Dora and Tony, the daughter, wife and son of Perez. Perez is an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who is facing deportation and has been provided with sanctuary at the church. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Vicki Kemper, who is the pastor of First Congregational Church of Amherst, speaks during a meeting with Sen. Ed Markey organized by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 at the church. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sen. Ed Markey, right, meets with Lucio Perez of Springfield, third from right, and members of his family Sunday at First Congregational Church of Amherst. Perez is an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who is facing deportation and has been provided with sanctuary at the church. Margaret Sawyer, background, who is a lead organizer for the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, watches. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • State Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, left, listens as Sid Ferreira, chairman of the Amherst Sanctuary Committee, speaks during a meeting Sunday at First Congregational Church of Amherst. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lucio Perez of Springfield, second from right, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who is facing deportation and has been given sanctuary by First Congregational Church of Amherst, speaks beside his daughter, Lucy, wife, Dora, and Sen. Ed Markey, right, during a meeting Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 at the church. Listening are Springfield City Councilors Jesse Lederman, left and Adam Gomez. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Lucio Perez of Springfield, an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant who is facing deportation who has been given sanctuary at First Congregational Church of Amherst, shakes hands with U.S. Sen. Ed Markey at the close of a meeting at the church Sunday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Members of the Amherst Area Gospel Choir sing during a Town Hall Meeting with Sen. Ed Markey, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sen. Ed Markey, left, and Senate President Stanley Rosenberg applaud after a performance by the Amherst Regional Middle School choir during a Town Hall Meeting with Sen. Ed Markey, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sen. Ed Markey speaks during his Town Hall Meeting, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Members of the Amherst Regional Middle School eighth grade choir sing during a Town Hall Meeting with Sen. Ed Markey, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sen. Ed Markey speaks during his Town Hall Meeting, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Amy Kroin, of Hadley, second from right, asks a question during a town hall meeting Sunday with U.S. Sen. Edward Markey at Amherst Regional Middle School. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sophia Fox, of Granby, second from right, asks a question during a Town Hall Meeting with Sen. Ed Markey, Sunday, Jan. 28, 2018 at Amherst Regional Middle School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Sen. Ed Markey speaks during his Town Hall Meeting, Sunday at Amherst Regional Middle School. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS



@dustyc123
Thursday, February 01, 2018

AMHERST — An animated crowd began to line up outside Amherst Regional Middle School at around 5 p.m. Sunday, and the political issues on their minds were already on full display.

“Keep the DREAMers, keep the dream,” one sign read. “Release the aid for Puerto Rico” and “I’m with Lucio,” read others.

They were constituents waiting to hear from U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, who was holding a town hall meeting.

“When you’re in this era of Donald Trump, there are just so many issues that we have to talk about,” Markey told the audience, his anti-Trump rhetoric drawing loud applause.

After a brief introduction of issues important to him — immigration, climate change, net neutrality, the opioid epidemic, to name a few — Markey opened the floor to constituent questions.

Two local undocumented students, Smith College’s Diana Umana and Julieta Rendon-Mendoza, urged Markey to continue pushing for legislation to protect so-called “Dreamers” — immigrants like themselves who arrived in the United States as youth.

“What we want is a clean Dream Act that has no militarization, no border wall,” Rendon-Mendoza said, referring to a bill that would grant conditional residency, and then possible permanent residency, to such immigrants. “We want to focus on family reunification, not division.”

The government temporarily shut down last week over that issue before Democrats agreed to a temporary funding bill on a Republican promise of further negotiations.

That temporary funding will only last until Feb. 8, when protections for immigrants will likely again decide whether a budget passes or not. Markey told the crowd that he wouldn’t vote on any spending bill that doesn’t include protections for Dreamers, as well as funding for the opioid crisis and rebuilding efforts in Puerto Rico.

The topic of immigration was in the foreground at the town hall in large part because earlier in the day, Markey paid a visit to First Congregational Church to see how the Trump administration’s immigration policies are playing out on the ground in the Pioneer Valley.

The church made for an obvious meeting place because for 103 days it has been the home of Lucio Perez, a local undocumented immigrant who has taken sanctuary there to avoid deportation. Joining Perez in a meeting with Markey were local religious leaders, immigrants, immigration activists, and town and state officials.

“I know there are a lot of parents here,” Perez told those gathered for the meeting, which was organized by the Pioneer Valley Workers Center.

Perez’s own four children are able to visit three times a week, but the joy of those visits is fleeting. “Every time they leave for Springfield, my heart breaks,” he said.

Town officials in the audience shared Amherst’s own experience establishing itself as a sanctuary community, while local immigrants adversely affected by the Trump administration’s policies made sure Markey heard their voices.

One of those voices was Marleny Amaya’s, an Amherst resident from El Salvador. Amaya has benefited from “temporary protected status.” But for countries like hers, Trump has canceled that program, which allows people from places affected by armed conflict or natural disaster to work in the United States.

“I’m fighting to protect my immigration status, because I have a family to support,” Amaya said. Her two children are smart, she added, and want to go to college. “But if I’m deported, they won’t have the opportunity.”

“I want you to defend our rights,” Amaya said, urging Markey to protect the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants.

It was Perez’s case, and his sanctuary at First Congregational, that were front and center. Perez’s wife, Dora, and his four children sat quietly next to him, translation headsets on both parents’ ears.

“I wouldn’t want this to happen to anyone else, what I’m living here ... with the kids living without the love of their father,” Perez said in testimony that brought some to tears.

“We’re here to be your support, we’re here to let you know that you’re not alone,” Markey told Perez. “That’s why I’m here.”

Markey met with Perez and his family for a private conversation before the larger meeting, though their conversation was off limits to the press. Markey promised to keep petitioning the Trump administration on Perez’s behalf.

After the meeting ended, many of those gathered headed over to Markey’s town hall event, which packed the middle school’s auditorium to capacity.

The town hall for the most part was not adversarial, with many in the audience expressing appreciation for Markey’s anti-nuclear work, his commitment to a “free and open” internet and his environmental stances.

Markey did, however, face some difficult questions on issues including sanctions on North Korea and education.

A group of Puerto Rican activists pressed the senator on the status of the commonwealth, which is facing not only the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria but also $70 billion in debt and an unknown political future.

“How are you working, or planning to work, to decolonize my homeland, which has been a colony of the U.S. for 120 years?” Victor Davila, of Springfield, asked. Another activist urged Markey to support the cancellation of the island’s debt.

“Ultimately, I do agree with you, if we’re ever going to have a fresh start in Puerto Rico ... it is going to be imperative to look at this debt,” Markey said.

As the crowd filtered out, Tom Carpenter of Belchertown contrasted Markey’s previous statements in 2012 that the country’s defense budget was bloated with his September vote to approve an $80 billion annual increase in military spending. Carpenter asked what changed in those five years.

“You know what, it’s a very good point,” Markey said, explaining, however, that his vote was done in the larger context of budget negotiations that are still ongoing.

Markey finished the night urging the audience to continue the “revolutionary” work Massachusetts is known for, and to resist the Trump administration.

“Our job is to be up, our job is to be who we are,” he said.

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