‘Dreamers’ at forefront ofMarkey’s Amherst visit

  • 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 Photo/Jerrey Roberts

For The Recorder
Tuesday, January 30, 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.”