SPRINGFIELD - The City Council took the first step to pass an ordinance that would help protect immigrants - especially those without documentation - after more than a 100 people flooded the meeting and spoke in support of the proposal.
A high school teacher talked about her students who are worried they will be separated from their parents, an immigrant talked about being taken advantage of by landlords who rent unsafe apartments and many more said the adoption would make Springfield safer for all residents.
"Everyone has the right to be accountable to its citizens," said Bruce Miller, who teaches constitutional law at Western New England College. "Secondly it is the humane and right thing to do."
The Welcoming Trust Ordinance bans city employees from inquiring about a resident's immigration status unless required by federal or state law and bans them from serving as an immigration officer. It also stops city employees from targeting any medical, educational or faith institution from providing refugee to immigrants and their families.
The Springfield City Council will consider a proposed ordinance that would direct municipal employees not to question the immigration status of any resident unless required by law.
The ordinance was spearheaded by Councilor Adam Gomez and co-sponsored by four other councilors. All 12 councilors who attended the meeting voted for the proposal in a first step. It will now go to ordinance committee and then the Council will take final votes on it soon.
"We have the ability to stand up against persecution," Lederman said. "The Springfield City Council says this ends now."
Before the vote, Councilor E. Henry Twiggs urged the council to pass the ordinance as soon as possible.
"It reminds me of the days when I was in the south marching for equal rights and the right to vote. Those were some difficult days," he said. "We have an opportunity to do something tonight that will enhance the lives of some of our citizens."
Councilor Marcus Williams was the only one to critique the ordinance, and that was just to ask to add non-profit agencies to the list of groups that would be protected if they assisted immigrants.
He said worked for the YWCA as a grant writer and often would see victims of domestic violence in the agency and does not want to see people avoid getting help from non-profit agencies.
The remaining councilors voted in favor of the change to the applause of the audience. When councilors explained that was not the final vote, one woman yelled: "We like the amendment."
The ordinance was supported by multiple outside groups including the Pioneer Valley Project, The Resistance Center for Peace and Justice and the American Civil Liberties Union.
"I'm asking you to support this because our families need it," said Adan Abi, of Springfield. "This will make all of us feel more welcome. We have to help each other."
The ordinance means people will not have to feel afraid to ask a teacher for help for their child, to report a landlord has not turned on the heat in December and to report they had witnessed a crime, he said.
Shanique Spaulding, who has received multiple awards for her community service and activism said she is the daughter of two formerly undocumented immigrants from Jamaica. She said her father, a mason, and her mother, a store manager, were successful because people were willing to take a chance to help them.
"Undocumented immigrant people are people and when given a chance we will thrive," she said.
City Councilors occasionally referred to Gisella Collazo, an immigrant from Peru, who sought sanctuary in the South Congregational Church for three months after facing deportation and being split from her husband and two American-born children.
Collazo attended the meeting and spoke in favor of the ordinance through a translator.
"We live in houses in poor conditions but we do not feel we can report it because there are repercussions," she said.
She added there are people who do not report they are victims of a crime because they are afraid to be deported.
High School of Commerce teacher Suri Ramos said students who are American born but have undocumented parents, feel so much anxiety it interferes with their education. They are often vulnerable to bullies and it prevents parents from getting involved in their schools.
"Students refuse to go to the hospital because parents are afraid to go with them," she said. "This will offer them the same sense of security as their peers, nothing more, nothing less."
Not all people who spoke for the ordinance were recent immigrants. Several talked about their grandparents from Ireland and other countries taking in, helping and protecting families generations ago, similar to those who have come to the city today looking for a better life.
"All people are created equal and every life is precious," said Cheryl Moynahan, adding the city has an obligation to ensure all residents are safe.