Town says group was within law
Foes of illegal immigrants within rights, counsel says
A local group advocating the expulsion of illegal immigrants from Framingham did not violate civil rights laws at its inaugural meeting in November, Town Counsel Christopher Petrini has concluded.
Petrini determined that the group's controversial views on the negative impact of illegal immigration are protected under the First Amendment.
After nearly a month of review, Petrini wrote in a memo to the Board of Selectmen last Thursday that the group, Concerned Citizens and Friends for Illegal Immigration Law Enforcement, and its cofounders, Joseph Rizoli and Jeffrey Buck, are "entitled to the protection of the First Amendment absent proof that the speech in question challenged the attendees to imminent violence or lawlessness."
"Whether or not you agree with their point of view is a different matter, but there was nothing evident in what I reviewed that showed their speech would result in violence," Petrini said in an interview.
"To paraphrase Voltaire . . . I may disagree with what you're saying, but I will defend your right to say it. That's basically what we have here."
The group has been the subject of a heated controversy for the past month, drawing criticism from town and state officials, social workers, and minority activists after reportedly making disparaging remarks at its Nov. 13 meeting about Framingham's immigrant population.
The meeting prompted Nancy Morse, executive director of the MetroWest Latin American Center, to request an inquiry into whether the group's speech had the potential to incite violence against immigrant groups, particularly the Brazilian population.
She wrote in a Nov. 20 letter to the Board of Selectmen that Rizoli's comments at the meeting could result in the "creation of an atmosphere of inferiority, isolation, and intimidation based on national origin, which could result in a discriminatory environment."
Petrini, who subpoenaed 31 pages of documents from Rizoli, said he has yet to review a videotape shown at the Nov. 13 meeting.
Unless the video, which Petrini expects to receive Jan. 8, portrays imagery or language that could lead to violence, Petrini said his findings would stand.
"We knew we would be vindicated in all this," said Jim Rizoli, Joseph Rizoli's brother and a member of the group. "We knew there was nothing distributed at our meeting that could be construed as `We hate immigrants.' We're against breaking the law."
The group, which has met twice in the past month, has prompted high-profile members of the Framingham community to form a committee aiming to promote Framingham as a "welcoming community," friendly to newcomers regardless of race, culture, national origin, language, or socioeconomic status.
The committee is in the midst of planning townwide forums to address immigration and diversity issues and to highlight the positive effects of immigration in Framingham and in other parts of the country.
The committee -- led by Charles Sisitsky, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, state Representative Deborah D. Blumer, and Gerard Desilets, director of planning at the South Middlesex Opportunity Council -- authored a proclamation that was adopted, 4-1, by selectmen last Thursday.
The proclamation pledged that the town would stand "against bigotry, prejudice, intimidation, and hatred of any kind" and would "work together to advance basic respect and human dignity in every aspect of our community life."
Ginger Esty, vice chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen, voted against supporting the proclamation, stating, "There's a difference between a welcome mat and the doormat."
Esty explained that the proclamation was too general and should clarify that Framingham was not going to welcome just anyone -- including drug dealers, sex offenders, and other lawbreakers.
Eun Lee Koh can be reached at email@example.com or 508-820-4238.
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