WBUR

Opportunity And Risk For Immigrants In Framingham

FRAMINGHAM, Mass. — After years of Brazilian immigration to this town of about 65,000, people are still divided about whether to welcome or discourage newcomers. Town leaders have had to walk a narrow line between enforcing the laws and building trust with immigrants.

In downtown Framingham, early in the morning, men gather in front of a Brazilian bakery. They are day laborers. There are no laws in Massachusetts making it illegal to have a day-labor site, but it is still remarkably public in its location, right in front of Town Hall and blocks away from the police department.

“It’s a risk to be here,” says Melvin Jarquin, 24, in Spanish. The Guatemalan immigrant says he has been in Framingham two years, illegally. He’s waiting for a painting job.

Another man who has been in Framingham much longer — seven years — says he’s not worried about waiting here for work.

“I know the Framingham police only worry about people who are committing serious crimes,” says Francisco de Vasconcelos. The 31-year-old says he has been to court 15 times for driving without a license and driving while drunk, and he’s here illegally.

“They haven’t deported me. It’s a miracle.”

If you ask residents and lawmakers to describe the stance of town government toward immigrant residents, you get mixed responses. Some say it’s a “sanctuary town” and others say it’s “hostile”.

“I think Framingham is currently in search of an identity,” says David Magnani, who represented Framingham at the State House for 20 years. He says when Brazilians moved to Framingham in the 1990s, the town responded with ambivalence.

On the one hand, Brazilians started businesses and bought houses, putting down real roots, but on the other hand, many have been here illegally.

De Vasconcelos says he has been to court 15 times for drunken driving and driving without a license. “They haven’t deported me. It’s a miracle.”

He says he imagines that some immigrants feel like it’s a “sanctuary,” but there is no agreement about that on the town level.

“I think that battle is being fought every day at the board of selectman’s office,” Magnani says. “I think it’s being fought every day in finance committee offices. I think it’s being fought every day in police departments. I think that question has not been resolved for the town at all.”

Take downtown, for example.

Chamber of Commerce leaders have long celebrated Brazilians in Framingham for starting mortgage companies, clothing stores, tax preparation offices and bakeries downtown.

Three years ago, on a tour of the downtown area, Ted Welte — then the president of the Metrowest Chamber of Commerce — said the town was “blessed.”

“The folks who have decided to pick Framingham as their place to come from other countries, are entrepreneurs, they’re hard workers, they don’t want to be on welfare, you know, they don’t want to take from society. They want to give,” Welte says.

According to an informal downtown business association, 85 percent of the businesses downtown are immigrant-owned.

But now, with a weak economy and many immigrants returning home, those same businesses are suffering, because they can’t attract Americans.

“We need American people to survive,” says Nubia Gaseta, who owns Party Flowers in downtown Framingham, “and now we are in a very, very bad situation.”

Gaseta says sales are down 50 percent this year.

“They don’t trust us,” she says.

While the Chamber of Commerce championed people like Gaseta for filling these vacant storefronts, some people in town have worried about who was starting these businesses and complained they didn’t do enough to cater to Americans.

“People call it ‘Illegalville’,” says town meeting member Dan Gittelsohn, referring to downtown and everything else that’s south of Route 9 in Framingham.

Gittelsohn wanted to question the immigration status of anyone wishing to open a store in downtown Framingham. But the measure didn’t pass.

“There are so many businesses along the way, that I don’t know what businesses they are. I can’t read them. I don’t understand what they’re saying,” says Gittelsohn, referring to the signs in many of the shops.

In fact, Gittelsohn would like police to ask immigrants about their status.

The chief of police has been willing to deal with immigration — but not in the way Gittelsohn would like.

For the record, the crime rate in Framingham is, on average, safer than in the rest of the state. Violent crime is lower, and property crimes are average.

In 2006, Police Chief Steven Carl, together with federal immigration authorities, went after illegal immigrants suspected of the most serious crimes. Carl lists them: “Crimes of gangs, guns, drugs and crimes of extreme violence.”

After a few years, the feds weren’t satisfied. They wanted Carl to investigate the status of every immigrant arrested. But he wouldn’t do it. So Carl severed his partnership with the federal government.

“Even if I said I wanted to do it, it’s financially outside the scope of our budget. We could never do it. Not right, not wrong — we could never do it. We could never engage. It would eat up our budget, because there are so many persons in this community.”

Asked if arresting and helping deport people would actually lessen his department’s workload — because he wouldn’t have to arrest people again — Carl disagreed.

“You have to hold them. You have to get them into Boston for the immigration court. You’re responsible for their medical care. You’re responsible for feeding them,” Carl says.

“At the same time, if a local police department is engaged actively, and as a primary mission is, ‘We’re going to deport people,’ you send a message to the immigrant community. Immigrants are in the community, they live here, and we depend on them not being afraid of us to call us when they see things go on that are crimes. We want them to call us. We don’t want them to be afraid that if they call us as we investigate their complaint, they might be deported.”

Carl continues to walk a fine line between enforcing the law and alienating immigrants. It’s telling that when he was asked about the day-labor site in downtown Framingham, he wouldn’t talk about it on tape. To him, Carl said it looks like guys just standing around drinking coffee. And he surmised that “hate groups” have spread the rumor that it’s a day-labor site.

Carl’s boss, the town manager, wouldn’t even talk to me about immigration. When I asked if he thought the town was a sanctuary or a law-and-order place, he said, “Why do we have to choose?”

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  • http://environmentalgeography.blogspot.com/2010/06/regionalization.html James Hayes-Bohanan

    Mr. Gittelsohn is making an interesting choice, allowing fear to trump curiosity. He wants his tax dollars spent on having the police investigate any business whose name he does not understand. It would be cheaper, easier, and more interesting just to ask.

  • Claudia Silva

    What a nice morning surprise! I work for the Town across the street from the bakery and went in this morning to get a cup of coffee (a rarity for me!) and saw you all broadcasting live…great work!

  • bill brossi

    Admirable article. My secret place for fresh baked pão de queijo (cheese bread) and dark brazilian coffee. I am impressed you can see the difference between the Guatemalans and Brazilian immigrants, without them work trucks might have to pull further down the street to pick-up some red-eyed labor ready sots. Surprising, how in a one block radius, you can buy Brazilian food, Russian vodka, designer clothes and nunchucks. Boa Vinda a Framingham!

  • Pierre

    Immigration issue set aside, De Vasconcelos should have been prosecuted accordingly and taken away from our roadways. It is inadmissible that we allow people to endanger our lives by driving drunk and/or without license.

  • mel

    Framingham has become one big mess. What a sad joke.

  • http://msn Bill

    13 times, and one drunk driving, and still around and loose? What a different scenario from the one where the construction worker was killed recently. Drunken driving there too. The police and the selectmen are too chicken to enforce the laws. Why don’t you interview 9 to 5 workers for their views on the subject?

  • http://www.buddhaspillow.blogspot.com Paul Creeden

    I find it disturbing that a police chief, directed by national experts in crime prevention on the Federal level to more diligently enforce immigration law to address gang violence and drug trafficking, refused to do so with the support of his supervisor, the town manager. While I do not think current Federal immigration law and policy is fully functional or sensible, I question how a police chief and a town manager help the situation by further undercutting the Federal authority to maintain standards for U.S. residency and citizenship. Who are they really protecting and serving? The voters or the illegal immigrants? And, yes, these are two distinctly different groups in a democracy.

  • Jimmyb

    Thank you BRU, for shining the spotlight on this situation!!!! I am shocked that this article even made it onto the leftie Metro West Daily News. And I’ll be interested to see how long theier comments section remains open. They have a habit of closing the comments section when people submit comments regarding illegal’s

    Gittleson should be on the Board of Selectmen!!!
    Ted Welte, thanks for confirming that you don’t know squat about The Ham. Try walking around without those blinders on…especially late night in downtown with a $50 hanging out of your pocket. It won’t take you long to see the other side of the coin.

    My favorite part of this story is this Francisco’s comment “I know the Framingham police only worry about people who are committing serious crimes,” says Francisco de Vasconcelos. The 31-year-old says he has been to court 15 times for driving without a license and driving while drunk, and he’s here illegally.” They haven’t deported me. It’s a miracle.”

    Fransisco’s comment pretty much sums up Chief Carl’s performance review. And here is Carl’s asinine statement defending his lack of actions
    In 2006, Police Chief Steven Carl, together with federal immigration authorities, went after illegal immigrants suspected of the most serious crimes. Carl lists them: “Crimes of gangs, guns, drugs and crimes of extreme violence.”After a few years, the feds weren’t satisfied. They wanted Carl to investigate the status of every immigrant arrested. But he wouldn’t do it. So Carl severed his partnership with the federal government.“Even if I said I wanted to do it, it’s financially outside the scope of our budget. We could never do it. Not right, not wrong — we could never do it. We could never engage. It would eat up our budget, because there are so many persons in this community.” Nice admission that the community is loaded with illegals Steve. Yet you would rather have your officers repeatedly dealing with the same criminals, instead of giving them a one way ticket to a federal holding facility. Asked if arresting and helping deport people would actually lessen his department’s workload — because he wouldn’t have to arrest people again — Carl disagreed.“You have to hold them. You have to get them into Boston for the immigration court. You’re responsible for their medical care. You’re responsible for feeding them,” If the town of Framingham provided the van I would volunteer to take at least one van load a week into Boston!!!

    Carl says.“At the same time, if a local police department is engaged actively, and as a primary mission is, ‘We’re going to deport people,’ you send a message to the immigrant community. Immigrants are in the community, they live here, and we depend on them not being afraid of us to call us when they see things go on that are crimes. We want them to call us. We don’t want them to be afraid that if they call us as we investigate their complaint, they might be deported.”

    Carl continues to walk a fine line between enforcing the law and alienating immigrants. It’s telling that when he was asked about the day-labor site in downtown Framingham, he wouldn’t talk about it on tape. To him, Carl said it looks like guys just standing around drinking coffee. And he surmised that “hate groups” have spread the rumor that it’s a day-labor site. Shows you just how out to lunch Carl is when it comes to weeding out the criminal element.

    Carl’s boss, the town manager, wouldn’t even talk to me about immigration. NICE JULIAN, just keep hiding out under Ginger’s desk!!
    When I asked if he thought the town was a sanctuary or a law-and-order place, he said, “Why do we have to choose?” What a classic comment!! Because, Julie…if you don’t choose a side, then you are not in the game. Please take of your team jersey and walk off the job.
    Carl, and the BOS vacate your seats so that they can be filled by people with, morals and a sense of loyalty to the legal tax paying community .

  • Scott Studebaker

    What excellent reporting! Thank you Bob and Bianca. A great idea, reporting on the towns we don’t hear much about in Boston, that mean so much to the fabric of the commonwealth. I was saddened to see these comments– usual angry trash talk about the Brazilians and others who are making Framingham an interesting place. I say to these bloviators: Go into any of these Brazilian-American owned stores and mix it up a bit with the customers and the people behind the counters, and see if you can still lump all these people together with such careless generalizations. All this aside, thanks again ‘BUR and Bob and Linda. After route 9, please do more road trips through the state, and thanks for focusing on the local culture in such an interesting way. Excellent choice of interviewees. Life is complicated. P.S. — Bob, it’s called a pod-a-ree’-a.

  • george milne

    I live in Southern California and I have to agree with the Police Chief. Dealing with illegals eats up all the budget money. They have to deal with the crimes that illegals commit – which is only fair – but they cannot spend all their man-hours chasing illegals. That is the job of the Border Patrol. Of course, we are very close to the border, so we get a lot of help. I suspect Framingham doesn’t get much help from the Migras.

  • http://CCFIILE.com Joe Rizoli

    The foremost people WBUR should have contacted for this series on the illegal’s in Framingham would have been the Rizoli’s. They would have filled you in on EVERYTHING about the Illegal alien problem in Framingham. You did not do your homework here WBUR to get the other side of the story about the damage Illegal’s have done to Framingham. You go to the worst place in the town that aids and abets Illegal’s, the Padaria.
    The whole downtown is an insult. SHAME on the Town Selectmen and Town Manager for letting it get to this point. the Illegals aren’t even afraid to be exposed anymore because the police have failed in their duties to the American people, shame on them also.

    Joe Rizoli
    Concerned Citizens and
    Friends of Illegal
    Immigration law Enforcement
    CCFIILE.com
    CCFIILE.org

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