NORTHAMPTON — There was roaring applause at First Churches on Monday night when Rebecca Fricke, district aide to state Rep. Ellen Story, read a statement from the Amherst Democrat declaring support for two bills designed to reform immigration policies on the local level.
One of those bills is the Trust Act, H.1613, which would prevent individuals released by judges and magistrates from then being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers. The other is the Safe Driving Act, H.3285, which would allow undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses if they pass a driving test and carry liability insurance.
“I call these two bills common-sense bills, and I support both of them,” Fricke read from Story’s statement.
Fricke was among several local officials at a standing-room-only community forum on immigration issues, organized by Just Communities of Western Massachusetts, a Springfield organization fighting immigrant discrimination and deportation. The event was held in Iglesia Quechua Bautista Nueva Vida, a smaller worship space in back of the main chapel at First Churches. Around 100 people, many of them immigrants themselves, were in attendance.
Bliss Requa-Trautz, an organizer with Just Communities, said she was pleased by the turnout, and believes it is a great start to local efforts for immigration reform. She noted that the event followed the Nov. 16 arrest of Jose Mayancela, an Ecuadorean immigrant living in Springfield, on a charge of operating a motor vehicle without a license. Many believe this was an incident of racial profiling, because Mayancela claims not to have been operating a motor vehicle at the time he was arrested.
“We need local protections for people who are waiting for that,” said Requa-Trautz, of Holyoke. Other local officials present were Ryan O’Donnell, city councilor-elect for Ward 3, Alisa Kline, city councilor-elect for Ward 7, and Tom Mitchell, an aide to state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst.
Before Requa-Trautz asked the officials if they could declare their support for immigration reform efforts, three Northampton residents shared stories about injustices they feel they have faced as a result of their race and immigration status. All three speakers gave their testimonies in Spanish, and a translator spoke in English.
Rosa Dutan, who immigrated from Ecuador in 2004, told the crowd about an incident where she was pulled over by state police in the middle of night on her way home from work. At the time, she said, she was eight months pregnant. An officer pulled her over, and when she could not produce a license, she said, she was told to get out of her car, which was then towed away. She said the officer did not offer to drive her home, so she had to walk alone for 40 minutes.
Rosio Yunga, a student at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School who immigrated from Ecuador in 2010, shared her fears about what would happen to her if her family members were deported. An aspiring doctor, she said she was grateful to her teachers who have helped her to learn English, and voiced her frustrations at the discriminations that may prevent her from achieving her dream.
“I ask all of you: Help us so we can continue studying,” said Yunga, 17. “We need driver’s licenses so we can live happily and at peace.”
Church leader Jaime Pizha, who immigrated in 2001, spoke to the crowd about his brother’s experience being arrested and turned over to immigration officers on his way to open the doors to the church. Pizha said he believes his brother was stopped because he is Latino.
“Why can’t we trust in this beautiful country?” Pizha asked.
When asked if they would work with the City Council to end racial profiling in Northampton, O’Donnell and Kline voiced their support. O’Donnell told the crowd that he believes the discrimination faced by immigrants goes against American values as outlined in the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
“I don’t think we are who we think we are if we have a society that is cut up into different groups,” O’Donnell said.
Mitchell said that while he was not in a position to declare the senator’s support for the Trust Act and the Safe Driving Act, he would “proudly” tell him of the “passion and commitment for these two bills.” “You can count on that,” Mitchell told the crowd.
At the end of the event, Requa-Trautz collected donations to fund transportation to Boston for immigration reform advocates to meet with their legislators.
David Ortega, of West Hartford, Conn., pastor of Iglesia Quechua Bautista Nueva Vida, opened and closed the event with a prayer. He noted that most of the people at the meeting were members of the church, and said he is willing to do what he can to help them.
“They deserve it,” Ortega said.
By GENA MANGIARATTI
Gazette Contributing Writer