Roslindale forum takes aim at Trump immigration policy

Wicked Local: West Roxbury
Julie M. Cohen
Publication Date: 
February 21, 2017

Locals anxious to join in the fight against President Donald Trump’s immigration policies learned more about the harsh realities of the struggle ahead during a recent forum.

Passionate neighbors, immigrants and others concerned by recent decisions made by the Trump administration – or “regime” as most called it – filled the Roslindale Congregational Church on Cummins Highway for the Roslindale is for Everyone (RISE) forum featuring a panel of experts involved in the fight.

Seated toward the front, residents Deb Allen, Bob Gracia and Andi Sabaroff said they’d each been politically active earlier in their lives and wanted to become involved again at this critical time.

I want to make a statement that the values of the president are not the values of every citizen in this nation,” said Gracia, who participated in civil rights marches in the 1960s.

I feel like we all need to be more active,” said Sabaroff. “We all need to start showing up.”

Throughout the event the panelists gave examples of how audience members could affect change. The most direct way to push back against the Trump agenda, they said, was for attendees to call or write to their political representatives – even those who are already supportive of immigrants – and voice their thoughts and concerns.

Referring to Gov. Charlie Baker’s opinion that Massachusetts should not become a “sanctuary” state for immigrants, panelist Sarang Sekhavat said, “Really, he just needs to hear from folks …; we need to keep that kind of pressure up.”

Emphasizing the need to educate, prepare and organize, Sekhavat, the federal policy director for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), said, “We’ve never faced a situation like this before.”

Echoing Sekhavat, panelist Patricia Montes, executive director of Centro Presente, criticized the legacy of President Barack Obama’s administration, saying it was “horrible” for undocumented immigrants.

However, she added, “The current regime is going to be worse.”

Panelist Alejandro Rodriguez, owner of El Chavo in Roslindale, said he felt that as a parent, an immigrant and a business owner, he had to speak out.

Every time my kids go to the school, they come home with different questions about Donald Trump,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard for me as a father.”

He said the way the policies of the new administration are affecting his kids is “not acceptable …; they’re the new generation of Americans.”

Mohammed al Bardan, a panelist and Syrian activist, said that as “an immigrant from one of those seven ‘lucky’ countries (referring to the countries in Trump’s travel ban) …; it’s so heartwarming to be in Massachusetts to see people like you showing support.”

The immigration process is difficult. “The vetting system is so long,” he said, adding he considers himself lucky to be in the U.S.

As for undocumented immigrants in the U.S. from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya, al Bardan said, “In most of those seven countries, there is no home to go back to.”

The staff at ABCD South Side in Roslindale have been helping those who are new to the country become self sufficient, offering ESOL programs that are often filled to capacity.

Program director and panelist Lisa Garrone said as a teacher and administrator, “I’ve never been this concerned.”

In her classrooms she said, “the whole atmosphere has changed.”

Students talk about the Trump administration’s agenda and try to integrate it into their classes.

Already, the obstacles are very great for undocumented students,” she said, adding that the program teaches the students to advocate for themselves while also providing resources and free immigration clinics.

Classes also serve as “safe havens” for students, no matter their status.

In fact, Garrone said she doesn’t ask for immigration documentation from her students and wondered whether that could put federal funding at risk if ABCD is required to do so.

If that’s the case, maybe we just don’t take the funding,” said Garrone.

Encouraging residents to continue participating in rallies, advocating against racist rhetoric, and supporting big organizations that are involved in legal fights, al Bardan said it’s important to work within the system to change it.

Moderator Marisol Negron, a professor at UMass-Boston, urged attendees to think creatively about how they can contribute to the fight. In addition to writing to or calling representatives, the panelists said they needed interpreters to volunteer, childcare help for those participating in rallies and help sustaining energy for the lengthy fight ahead.

Sekhavat ended the Q&A segment of the forum by saying, “This is really just about standing up and saying we are not going to be bullied,” to applause from the audience.

We are going to be successful with this issue when we’re all united,” he added.

To learn more about RISE, visit


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