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New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and recently Cambridge, are among the many cities in the U.S. that have affirmed their status as “sanctuary cities.” In these areas, city officials are prohibited from asking anyone’s citizenship status. Without such a policy, the millions of undocumented immigrants that reside within these cities wouldn’t even be able to go to a policeman, much less report a crime, making them an extremely vulnerable population.
Thus, this policy turns a potential instability into a strength, making immigrants more likely to contribute to the communities they reside in— a driving force in the U.S. all throughout its history. Yet absent from discussions on Cambridge’s decision to reaffirm its status last Tuesday, however, was the fact that many immigrants no longer reside in the Bay State’s only sanctuary city.
When Cambridge first declared sanctuary status in 1985, immigrants were able to move in because rent control kept housing cheap. Now, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is about $1,400 per month, according to the Associated Press. For immigrants, whose national average household income is about half that of Cambridge’s, it’s hard to see this recent development as anything but symbolic.
Symbolism is increasingly important in a national debate where undocumented immigrants have been reduced to aggressive numbers, so even providing the illusion of acceptance has its merits. But the fact that Cambridge is losing its immigrant population to gentrification is a huge loss and a sad irony for a city that has gone out of its way to affirm the importance of immigrants in its society.
It’s time that that the energy from the symbolic victories be sifted into channels for real change, whether it’s the city officials that declare them, or the all-important activists that fight for them.
I was born in Guatemala of U.S. citizen parents. As such, my priority is to the countries where immigrants are from, places where even a fraction of the resources devoted to U.S. immigrants would break the cycles of poverty and instability that so many immigrants flee. Most people, however, are more comfortable working in a national framework. If that means providing more citizenship tutoring or doing other things to improve the lives of immigrants in the Boston area, so be it. I prefer international outreach as the modicum of real change, but local work is still extremely commendable.
Organizing the millions that have demonstrated in favor of immigrants’ rights is truly an amazing accomplishment— especially with a population that is so diverse and divided. It took the time and energy of city officials and activists alike to accomplish that. Yet, that effort must now be utilized for systematic change. We have shown that we are here, we have shown that we are strong, and it’s time that we show the world specifically what it is that we stand for. The time for symbolic gains is over, and I implore people in the Cambridge area to start fighting for real gains.
Kyle A. de Beausset ’08-’09, a Crimson editorial editor, is an environmental science and public policy concentrator affiliated with Leverett House.
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