NOT MUCH URGENCY AT AN IMMIGRATION FORUM IN EAST BOSTON

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^ Ayanna Pressley speaking powerfully at her recent “Equity Agenda” Forum on Immigration

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Something was missing on Saturday at Congresswoman-elect Ayanna Pressley’s Immigration Forum on her “Equity Agenda” : people. About 75 showed up, far short of the 231 that her facebook event post listed as  “going.”

Pressley’s immigration reforms carry some urgency — I’ll outline them for you later in this report; most should be enacted as soon as possible. Why weren’t 500 people there ? Certainly Pressley doesn’t lack for support. In the primary race she defeated our incumbent Congressman, Mike Capuano, by almost 20 points, well over 10,000 votes. Immigration matters a lot. Divisive the issue may be, but those divisions reflect plenty of voter passion, on both sides. You’d expect a Pressley event in East Boston, where about 54 percent of all residents are recent immigrants, many facing visits from ICE, to draw a standing-room-only crowd. It didn’t happen.

I counted about eight Eastie residents present. Where were the other activist who show up all the time at Eastie gatherings ? Those who did attend came mostly from elsewhere : Jamaica plain, Chelsea, Downtown,  Cambridge. And what did they find there ? A two npage list of Pressley’s immigration proposals, a brief — eloquent and passionate — stump speech by Pressley, and then a long lecture, by Liza (no last name given) from MIRA (Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Agency) which, though heartfelt, veered away from Congress matters into state and local immigration concerns (drivers’ licenses for undocumented, police co-operation with ICE) which, however important to immigrants, have nothing to say about what Pressley intends to do in Congress. (Note : Pressley did say that she intends to weigh in on these state legislative matters. We’ll see where that goes.)

After Liza’s speech came an hour of breakout as each table of attendees was asked to discuss among themselves what immigration reforms should have priority. This sort of table group process at issues forums has become kind of a norm these days, and in some settings it can focus the ideas, usefully, of ordinary participants. Not, however, in this case. If Pressley wants to find out what her voters prioritize by way of immigration, she can do an in depth poll. If she wants to activate citizen enthusiasm, she can hold an outdoor rally. That’s what she ought to do.

I did not stay for the full hour of table group discussion. To tell the truth, I’m less interested in what 75 Pressley supporters want her to prioritize than i am in her own list. She’;s the one elected to Congress. Here is that list :

( 1 ) pass a clean DREAM act that creates a pathway to permanent status for DREAMers and their  families.

( 2 ) Like DREAMers, individuals and families with temporary protected status (TPS) should have a pathway to permanent status

( 3 ) “I will fight any proposal that links protections for DREAMers with funding for the construction of a border wall….”

( 4 ) Increase Title 1 funds to district schools… Expand resources for English Language Learners

( 5 ) End ICE enforcement and deportation activities. “Immediate end to funding for ICE’s immigration enforcement and deportation activities, while working to re-house non-immigration enforcement activities currently carried out by ICE, including human trafficking investigations…”

( 6 ) co-sponsor HR 6361 Establishing a Humane Immigration Enforcement System  to officially terminate, defund, and replace ICE

( 7 ) Codify protections for asylum seekers…pass legislation codifying grounds  for seeking asylum, including domestic and gang violence.

This list is quite more carefully worded than the sweeping generalities she adduced during her primary campaign. Note there is nothing in it about citizenship. The most that Pressley offers to DACA people and those with TPS is a pathway to permanent status : in other words, a Green Card. This is hardly a radical proposal. It may  fall short of what some are hoping for. As for the border wall, an overwhelming majority of voters (including me) agrees : don’t build it, it’s a useless waste of money.

Re-purposing the functions now carried out by ICE also makes good sense. Pressley’s original  call to “abolish ICE” seemed reckless, not to mention threatening the jobs of ICE’s thousands of employees. Her revised reform avoids that consequence and offers specific systemic suggestions that will maintain ICE’s proper mission while eliminating any legal basis for current abuses, some of them disgusting.

All of this is worth rallying for. Pressley should call such a rally, or engage other electeds if need be to maximize attendance. She has a passionate, powerful stump speech in her: she should use it where it’ll do the most good. 75 people at a table group discussion sends a message that the immigration issue isn’t all that important to folks. That’s not good.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere