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Officials happy with Brazilian turnout

Residents express concerns at forum

FRAMINGHAM -- Organizers of Monday night's town forum with Brazilian residents called the gathering historic and said they would meet today to discuss ways to address concerns that were presented.

"They came, and they voiced their concerns," said Ilton Lisboa, a Brazilian immigrant and local activist. "It was a wonderful and successful meeting."

More than 300 Brazilian immigrants attended the meeting at Town Hall, expressing frustration with immigration policy, housing, access to health care, and reported rough treatment by police. One official said it was the first time so many Brazilians had gathered inside the municipal building despite their large presence around downtown.

"I know this was a difficult spot for some people in the community to be in," said Lieutenant Paul Shastany of the Framingham Police Department. "To come out and do what they did, I think, was a triumph."

Vera Dias-Freitas, a Brazilian business owner in downtown Framingham who served on the committee that organized the meeting, said she was surprised many of the immigrants freely criticized town police, because the Framingham Police Department initially called for the meeting.

"That's the way it should be," Dias-Freitas said. "It's democracy at its best; people should be able to speak their mind freely."

With the meeting out of the way, "the real work starts now," she said. "They were very courageous to speak out, so their concerns and issues should be addressed."

But how much local officials can do remains to be seen. Many of the concerns expressed are rooted in immigration policy -- almost exclusively a federal domain.

"There are lots of things that local officials can and should be doing," said Peter Skerry, a political science professor and immigration specialist at Boston College. "Whether it's day-laborer hiring sites, or overcrowded housing, or mistreatment of immigrants, these are all issues that local officials have some influence and some control over."

Skerry said the prospects of federal immigration reform still seem dim despite renewed interest on the issue in Washington.

"I think these problems aren't going to go away, and we will see a lot of energy get shifted to the state and local level, because the federal government can't get it's act together now," said Skerry, who called Framingham authorities' initiative in calling for the meeting "a positive sign."

Shastany said the Police Department, whose main objective in seeking the meeting was to remove barriers to reporting crime among Brazilians, would look into the concerns that were presented.

"We're not foolish enough to think we have the best practices," Shastany said.

Dias-Freitas said she hopes officials who attended the meeting have a better picture of Framingham's Brazilian community.

"It put a face to all that we have been trying to accomplish," she said. "The people of Framingham, the Brazilians, have a face, not just the passing face on the streets of downtown, but people were able to come and explain what their feelings and needs were."

John C. Drake can be reached at 508- 820-4229 or jdrake@globe.com.

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