Mayoral candidates key on immigrant issues in online forum

Six announced candidates for mayor of Boston mainly found accord as they discussed a range of immigration issues during a virtual forum hosted by the Brazilian Workers Center and SEIU Local 32BJ last Thursday.

This was the second of six forums planned by a coalition of progressive, non-profit groups that included participation from Mayor Kim Janey, City Councillors Michelle Wu, Annissa Essaibi George and Andrea Campbell, state Rep. Jon Santiago, and John Barros, former chief of economic development for the city of Boston.

The candidates offered nearly identical stances on many issues, including the question of issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, which elicited a chorus of yeses. During a rapid-fire section of the discussion – in which candidates were asked to respond with only a yes or no –  there was solidarity in support of immigrant rights.

All of the candidates indicated ‘yes’ when asked the following questions:

• Do you support municipal ID’s for Boston residents, regardless of immigration status?

• As Mayor, would you use the power of your office to advocate for the passage of state legislation to end the use of our criminal justice system for federal immigration enforcement - that is, the Safe Communities Act?

• Do you support increasing funding and opportunities to resettle refugees in the Boston area?

• Do you support putting resources towards ensuring that more people in Boston receive legal representation in their immigration cases?

• Do you support expanding the state’s hate crime laws to include gender and immigration status as protected classes?

The forum also focused on Covid-19 recovery plans for immigrant communities. Each candidate outlined a plan that primarily focused on getting federal funding into vulnerable business districts.

“I would also create a chief of worker empowerment…for streamlining and providing accountability for all the ways in which we should be supporting workers and lifting up our industries right now,” said Wu.

“We are continuing to be devastated not just by Covid, but also by job loss,” Campbell said. “So, number one is just making sure that there is immediate relief provided to residents to low wage workers, frankly, who are losing their jobs, and of course, to small businesses who need immediate relief.”

Added Essaibi George: “There’s no greater population that’s been so impacted [by the pandemic] than our immigrant community here in the city of Boston.

For her part, Janey said, “Just because Trump is out of office does not mean everything is okay. We need to continue to ensure that we’re doing everything to protect our immigrant brothers and sisters and that’s what I will continue to do as your mayor.” 

Another question asked of the candidates involved the Working Family Mobility Act, which would allow all Massachusetts residents to qualify for a standard driver’s license regardless of immigration status. All candidates said that they support the legislation and would push for its passage as mayor.

“This driver’s license bill is about economic equity… because it’s not just getting someone licensed, to drive to improve safety,” Santiago said. “This is about economic opportunity.” 

Essaibi George offered that “by providing driver’s licenses, we give our immigrant communities not only the ability to provide for their own families, but also the peace of mind and the safety as they can and should continue to contribute to our city, to our local economy, and certainly to support their families.”

Language barriers that persist in Boston were highlighted as a primary issue both by the moderators and the candidates. 

“It’s critically important that we make sure that we are culturally competent and accessible to the plethora of languages that exist in the city of Boston,” Santiago said. “I know the importance of that because it’s my work, not just in the State House as a representative, but also in the emergency room.”

Said Janey: “We should not be translating materials after the fact and treating people who speak other languages other than English as an afterthought. We need to make sure that we’re getting information out in real time in the language that people understand.”

The next forum will be hosted by the Greater Boston Labor Council on May 20 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The topic will be “Jobs & Workers.” Later forums include Education (May 27); Climate Justice (June 3), and Housing and Land (June 10). An earlier event sponsored by the NAACP in May focused on racial justice.

For more information on how to participate— or to watch previously recorded forums— go to

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