FRAMINGHAM, Mass.—Jim Rizoli avoids going downtown. The city center has been taken over by Brazilian immigrants, he says. He spent years trying to kick "the illegals" out of his hometown in suburban Boston. But he's decided to give up the battle.
"This town is an amnesty town now," says Rizoli, a 62-year-old retired business owner who was born in Framingham. "You can only bang your head against the wall so many times."
Rizoli and his twin brother, Joe Rizoli, led an anti-Brazilian crusade in Framingham that surfaced as the city began to change at whiplash speed. Thousands of Brazilian immigrants began moving to the old Massachusetts mill town in the 1980s, attracted by the cheap rent, as well as easy access to Boston and surrounding suburbs. The vast majority sought high-paid work as housekeepers and housepainters for affluent Bostonians.
About 10 years ago, Brazilians also began opening businesses in the empty storefronts that dotted downtown Framingham. Brazilian flags and Portuguese-language signs now hang from windows in beauty salons, travel agencies, and boutiques.
Roughly 6,500 Brazilians lived in Framingham in 2010, according to the U.S. Census. That's just 10 percent of the overall population, though the data may not count all undocumented immigrants. On weekdays, immigrants linger outside a Brazilian bakery across from the town hall, waiting for pickup-truck drivers to pull up and offer them a day's work.
This scene—and the so-called Brazilian "takeover" of downtown Framingham—drives the Rizoli brothers crazy. They've organized protests across the street from the bakery and frequently criticized Brazilian immigrants during town-hall meetings. They unsuccessfully lobbied the city to check a person's immigration status before issuing business licenses.
In 2003, the twins launched Concerned Citizens and Friends of Illegal Immigration Law Enforcement, which advocates for legal immigration to Framingham, Rizoli says. The Anti-Defamation League calls them "anti-immigrant extremists" and "holocaust deniers." For years the group hosted a weekly cable television show called Illegal Immigration Chat, which has since been suspended over anti-Semitic views expressed on the program.
The two brothers, who live alone in northern Framingham, are appealing the suspension. Jim Rizoli says he's saddened to see town leaders let the city change for the worse.
He remembers shopping at Sears and going to the movies in downtown Framingham when he was young. At the time, General Motors employed thousands of people in its auto factory there. When GM closed down the plant in 1989, longtime residents started to leave as well. Then a mall opened in the suburbs and the downtown storefronts started to empty out too.
Around that time, Brazilian immigrants started moving in. And the Rizoli brothers charge them with a range of social ills: lowering educational standards, committing crimes, and abusing social welfare.
"They may be bringing business to Framingham, but it's done by an illegal means," says Jim Rizoli. "Al Capone made Chicago rich, but that doesn't mean what he was doing was right."
Town officials have made efforts in recent years to reach out to the growing Brazilian community, hiring more Portuguese-speaking staff and police officers, among other things.
Rizoli admits that they've lost this fight.
"It's like pissin' in the wind. There's no sense in doing it anymore," says Rizoli, who recently retired from running a carpet-cleaning business. "The town mind-set has been completely taken over by illegal immigrants."
This has nothing to do with racism, Rizoli insists, pointing out that his brother drives a school bus of mostly African-American students.
"He wouldn't do that if he were racist," Rizoli says. "Why do people always think being against illegal immigration means being racist?"
Rizoli's own grandparents were immigrants who arrived in Framingham in the early 1900s, part of a wave of Italian immigrants who mostly worked in nearby granite and marble rock quarries. They had little in common with the more recent wave of Latin-American newcomers, Rizoli says.
"There is no comparison," he says. "They stayed here and contributed to this town. They didn't get on the welfare system—though there probably wasn't a welfare system back then."
When asked if he plans to leave Framingham, Rizoli responds: "Why should I? I have a house here."
He and his brother just avoid the parts of town where immigrants live, he says, which are mostly south of downtown.
"There is nothing we can do about it. It's not going to get better; it's only going to get worse," he says. "Our taxes will go up and we'll just have to pay."
This article is part of our Next America: Communities project, which is supported by a grant from Emerson Collective.
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