Laura Rotolo, Staff Counsel and Community Advocate for Immigrants’ Rights for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, has been advocating on behalf of immigrants for over two decades. While her advocacy work occasionally brought her to Winchester over the years, since 2019 she has worked closely with the Network’s Immigrant Justice Committee around issues of local protections for immigrants.
As an immigrant from Argentina, issues of immigration and immigrant justice are exceedingly close to her heart. Laura finds that one of the greatest challenges in doing advocacy work around immigration issues– especially in Massachusetts – is overcoming the rhetoric that people who come to the United States without legal permission are doing so simply because they don’t want to wait in line or fill out the right paperwork. In reality, there are very few paths to legal migration and those paths are far outweighed by the need. She is also frustrated by the lack of acknowledgement of the United States’ role in creating the conditions that force people to leave their countries. In Latin American, for example, U.S. interference has created conditions in some areas that have made it difficult or impossible to live. Crafting policies to shut out these people who are fleeing conditions that U.S. foreign policy helped create is especially cruel. Laura believes that having honest conversations with friends and neighbors can help overcome these myths and hurtful rhetoric.
Spoofing on Michelle Obama’s quote, “when they do low, we go high,” Laura likes to say, “when they go low, we go local.” She believes that working for big systemic change at the local level is tremendously rewarding, as it leads to tangible results that then reverberate outwards and allows for deep, meaningful conversations and human connection in a way that state or federal-level work cannot.
While immigration reform on a large scale in Washington is necessary, we can also work to make our communities better places, one by one, when cities and towns set down clear policies and beliefs for their locality. On the state level, she believes that passing protections such as the Safe Communities Act and the Work and Family Mobility Act would dramatically improve immigrants’ lives in Massachusetts by disentangling local resources from federal deportation efforts and by allowing qualified drivers to get a drivers’ license regardless of immigrations status. Both of those bills are backed by broad and energetic coalitions of organizations, faith groups, elected officials and many other stakeholders, including the Network.
Laura is extremely grateful to the wise women – including family members, friends, colleagues, and mentors – who have supported her, inspired her, and lent a listening ear when she needed it. As she said, “[These people are] all around us, and when we find each other, magic happens.”