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Summit proposed to study how immigration affects Framingham Sunday, April 17, 2005
David McLaughlin Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- Selectmen for the first time may wade into the hot-button issue of immigration's impact on Framingham, a subject that received almost constant attention during the election and which the board's chairwoman says she wants to better understand.

Selectmen Chairwoman Katie Murphy is proposing a summit or conference that would gather local, state and federal officials to help the board grasp the issue.  She acknowledges her concept is not fully developed, but argued it is time for the board to start collecting information.

Murphy raised the idea with the board after hearing concern from residents during the campaign, a race that saw Jim Rizoli, an outspoken critic of illegal immigration, win about 10 percent of the vote.

"The overwhelming sense is that they do not care for the hate speech, but the citizens of Framingham believe this is something we need to understand.  I believe that, too, and I believe it's my responsibility to act on that concern," she said.

The idea has the backing of at least one other board member, newly elected Dennis Giombetti.  He called for a study that would examine the number of illegal immigrants in town, the reasons they come here, and their impact on the economy, housing and public safety.

Giombetti argued a study would help the town "get our arms around the facts as opposed to a lot of things being said but nobody has any facts."

"There are people who are concerned about the issue, and we should at least look into it, and clearly we differentiate between immigrants and illegal immigrants," he said.

The idea of a conference was welcomed by Cristian Amaral, the community health director at the MetroWest Latin American Center.  Amaral commended the board for expressing interest in talking about immigration and encouraged selectmen to think about why immigrants leave their countries.

But she also cautioned that the subject may be too broad for one board to take on.

"I'm not positive about what they can do exactly," she said.

Rizoli said any conference or summit would be a "sham" if members of his anti-illegal immigration group, Concerned Citizens and Friends of Illegal Immigration Law Enforcement, are not invited.  He said they are "the experts in the whole of Massachusetts."

"The only reason (Murphy is) doing this is because we're embarrassing her in the selectmen's meetings....We're shaming them into it," he said.

Although the meeting would be open to the public, Murphy said Rizoli and members of his group would not be formal participants.

"I will really be asking for only professional speakers, people who bring some expertise, not someone who says every Brazilian in Framingham is illegal.  That doesn't contribute to the knowledge base we're trying to build," she said.

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