It was a case of a picture speaking louder and more eloquently than any words could when leaders of Boston's communities of color gathered last Monday to campaign for housing for immigrant children.

For the campaigners, who had gathered in downtown Boston, had selected a poignant backdrop to help deliver their message – the Irish Famine Memorial.

The sculpture, which was unveiled in 1998, is part of the city's memorial to the devastating Irish Famine of the mid-19th Century, which killed more than a million Irish people.

The Great Famine accounted for the lives of nearly an eighth of the entire population at the time, while some two million more emigrated in a period of little more than a decade.

And last Monday those haunting memories were deliberately evoked, as campaigners summoned the city's history to support Governor Deval Patrick's plan to shelter immigrant children in Massachusetts.

The Boston Globe reports that the "juxtaposition was intentional," as a cavalcade of speakers shared the microphone near the outstretched hand of a statue of an emaciated woman.

Patrick has proposed housing up to 1,000 immigrant children who are stranded at the south-west border after trying to enter the US illegally after fleeing violence in Central America. He has proposed two sites – Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and Camp Edwards on Cape Cod.

The issue has proved divisive and unpopular with many residents of the Cape and Chicopee. Opponents claim the rescue plan – even if covered by federal funds – will financially cripple municipal services.

But campaigners who gathered in Boston last Monday were unanimous in their support for the migrant plan.

City Councilor Tito Jackson said: "The question is not one of capacity. The question is one of morality. Do we do the right thing by these young people who are standing here before us today who are in need?"

Jeffrey Sanchez, a Jamaica Plain Democrat, said: "There are times in our history, there are times when children show up and you can't close the door on children."

Ron Bell, political director of the Church of God in Christ's Massachusetts First Jurisdiction, told the 30-strong crowd that he was addressing the residents of the Cape and Chicopee, when he asked: "What if it was your child? What if it was a person that looked like you?"

Another campaigner, Cristina Aguilera, said it was a humanitarian issue.

Aguilera, an organizer for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said growing up in Venezuela taught her the first-hand the daily dangers children face their every day.

She added: "We need to make sure they that they do not have to go back to be killed in their countries."