WORCESTER - While a crowd cheered and bobbed signs in the snowy night sky in front of City Hall Tuesday night, Mayor Joseph M. Petty continued to assure residents that no matter what shape federal policy on immigration may take, the city's doors will remain open.
"Worcester is a welcoming city and always will be," Mr. Petty said.
He said the city will not use police officers to "build walls around our neighborhoods or to tear families apart," and said allies of President Donald Trump in the city are trying to divide the community.
Organized by Worcester Showing Up for Racial Justice, the solidarity rally preceded the City Council meeting, which had on the agenda a resolution from At-Large Councilor Michael T. Gaffney asking to clarify whether Worcester is a "sanctuary city." Sanctuary cities are generally considered those that put limits on cooperation with federal immigration authorities.
Mr. Trump has signed an executive order banning travel to the U.S. by residents of several majority-Muslim countries and has ordered new limits on refugees. He also signed another order threatening to pull federal funds from cities that fail to enforce immigration laws.
But Mr. Petty said the city has a long history of welcoming immigrants. He called the president's orders are reckless, and said the travel ban impacts the local economy. He said Mr. Gaffney's efforts will send a chilling message: that certain groups of people are not welcome here. He said Mr. Gaffney's resolution would be defeated.
Around 1,300 people indicated on the SURJ's Facebook page that they planned on going Tuesday night, and that number didn't appear far off. College students appeared well-represented, and several families brought children to the rally.
Speaking through a translator, Gloria Ramirez, who is from El Salvador, said the U.S. is a nation of immigrants. She said immigrants built everything people in the city see around them. That tradition continues, she said, adding that to be on Mr. Trump's side is to be on the side of injustice.
Tahir Ali of the Worcester Islamic Center said the country cannot slam its doors shut. Refugees have already suffered so much, and go through years of background checks and bureaucracy to come here. He said he was troubled by the immigration ban from largely Muslim countries; he said a ban on one religion is a ban on all religions.
Marianna Islam of the Massachusetts Women of Color Coalition said she stood at the rally for groups who could be negatively impacted by Mr. Trump's executive orders.
"I'm here for the woman who can't report a sexual assault for fear of being deported," Ms. Islam said.
Patricia Yancey, president of the Worcester NAACP, said Mr. Trump's "make America great again" campaign slogan does not appear to be extending to all people. She said the city should indeed declare itself a sanctuary, and she urged people at the rally to stay involved in the democratic process to keep public officials accountable.
"Our power to shape who we are as a city lies with our vote," Ms. Yancey said.
As the City Council meeting was set to start, most of the rallygoers flooded City Hall, packing the stairwells and chanting in the hallways before the meeting got underway.