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Immigration study to pinpoint influx Thursday, August 25, 2005
David McLaughlin 508-626-4338 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Local and state officials are planning an October forum to examine the impacts of immigration across MetroWest, but the event is already drawing fire for ignoring opponents of illegal immigration.

The conference is aimed at creating a fuller understanding of the role immigrants play in MetroWest life, from their effect on the region's economy to education in local schools.

While the exact goals and format are still being worked out, organizers say the forum is a crucial first step toward addressing one of the most pressing subjects for MetroWest and the state.

"We're not necessarily looking at this as a problem," said selectmen Chairwoman Katie Murphy.  "I think we have to understand who's here, why, what's the impact on the economy, both the positive aspects and the negative aspects."

The conference, scheduled for Oct. 28 or 31, will feature a presentation by MassINC, a Boston organization that published in June a sweeping study on immigration in Massachusetts.  The report found that the immigrant population in the state is exploding and that its workers are a primary force in driving the economy here.

Organizers also hope U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, who has filed immigration reform legislation with U.S. Sen. John McCain, will attend.  Their proposal would in part legalize undocumented workers after they pay a fine and open the door for new immigrants to work here for up to six years with visas.

Ned Price, a Town Meeting member who also belongs to the Massachusetts Coalition for Immigration Reform, predicted the conference will simply find that immigration "is a wonderful idea" because those putting it together are biased.

Besides Murphy, MetroWest Chamber of Commerce President Ted Welte and state Rep.  Deborah Blumer, D-Framingham, are key organizers.  If the sponsors want to achieve any credibility, Price said, they need to include a strong critic of illegal immigration.

"I think it will just be a further whitewash so selectmen can say they've done something to address the issues of illegal immigration," he said.

Selectman Ginger Esty also questioned why organizers are planning to host the forum in a hotel instead of a public building.  She called the move "a transparent attempt" to keep out Framingham's most vocal illegal immigration opponents.

"I don't think we can have a meaningful forum, a so-called forum, without all sides being heard, and that might include some people Katie Murphy doesn't like.  This is America," she said.

Murphy, however, said the meeting is open to the public and that organizers are asking participants to be "respectful of one another's comments and perspectives."  She said the forum is not about illegal immigrants.

Welte declined comment about Price's charge that he is biased.  But he said those who talk about immigration "in negative terms" think local communities have authority to control it, a view he called "totally unrealistic."

"The thrust here is, number one, what does the data show about the changing reality, not only of Massachusetts but of MetroWest, and what options are out there to solve the whole legalization issue at the federal level, because it is a federal issue," he said.

While Kennedy's attendance is tentative, U.S. Rep. Edward Markey's office has been involved.  In an interview earlier this week, the Malden Democrat credited Framingham with tackling the subject, though he cautioned that MetroWest alone cannot solve a national problem.

"I think it's very important we have a summit," Markey said.  "We're fully engaged.  This is something my Framingham office hears about every single day."

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