The upcoming Chelsea Viaduct state highway project may include plans to eliminate the 5th Street onramp next to the Williams School, and Councillor Roy Avellaneda said he wants answers about the plan.
Avellaneda said at the Nov. 20 Council meeting that he has learned that MassDOT is considering closing down the onramp, which he said is critical for making sure the downtown and Everett Avenue are not flooded with vehicle traffic at certain times of the day.
“There is a proposal by MassDOT to close the 5th Street onramp to the Tobin Bridge at Arlington Street adjacent to the MITC Building,” he said. “They are talking…about doing away with it and eliminating it. It jumps off the page to me. I am wondering what impact that will have to the other two off-ramps and what kind of drastic impact it will have on our downtown.”
The MITC (Massachusetts Information Technology Center) Building is a state-owned building that houses computer technology and electronic records for the state. It has several hundreds employees.
A spokesman for MassDOT would not confirm or deny that there is a plan to take away the on-ramp. He said the plans are still in design for the overall viaduct project, and a public process with members of the community is underway.
A meeting took place earlier this month in Chelsea to discuss the project, which will begin in 2016.
“The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is continuing to move forward with the design of the Chelsea Viaduct Rehabilitation Project and is committed to rehabilitating this important structure to ensure long term reliability throughout this area,” said the spokesman in a statement. “MassDOT has developed a comprehensive public participation plan that will engage local civic leaders and elected officials, area businesses and members of the community as well as commuters.”
The land where the onramp is located was actually taken by the Highway Department decades ago when the Tobin/Mystic Bridge was being constructed. That particular piece of land was the home to Union Park – a park that housed the Civil War statue now across the street from City Hall. The park was laid out in a “spoke” formation with all paths leading to the Civil War monument in the center. However, during the Bridge construction, it was part of a massive land-taking in Chelsea and was designated for highway use.
It’s on that basis where Avellaneda said he wants more information. He said he wants to know what the plan is for that land if the onramp is taken away. He said since it was taken by eminent domain for highway use, it should be returned to the City if it is no longer a highway use.
He said he has suspicions that the state just wants to use the land to create more parking for the MITC employees.
“Do they want to expand parking for the MITC?” he asked. “That land was taken by eminent domain for one purpose and that was for a highway. If the highway is no longer using it for a highway, that land should go back to the City. That land was taken away from Chelsea and should not go to the MITC for parking and for them to continue their spread. The plan for 5th Street needs to be found and any hidden agenda out there needs to be found.”
The Chelsea Viaduct is a structure which runs between the Tobin Bridge to where Route 1 crosses above County Road and the Viaduct carries traffic through the area known as the “Chelsea Curves.”
The Chelsea Viaduct is structurally deficient and in need of repair and rehabilitation in order to ensure the reliability of this important connection.
Working with the City of Chelsea, residents living near the Viaduct, roadway users, and other stakeholders, the project team is currently designing a plan for construction that minimizes and mitigates temporary construction impacts. MassDOT’s current schedule includes reaching the 25 percent design milestone before the end of this year, continuing design and related work throughout the winter, and then advertising the project to potential construction bidders in the spring of 2018.
When completed, the Viaduct Rehabilitation project will provide repairs to the structure’s supports and a new travel surface for vehicles traveling on it. Work on the viaduct will be coordinated with construction activities occurring as part of the separate Tobin Bridge Deck Rehabilitation Project.
The U.S. Border Patrol’s checkpoint in Lincoln, N.H. last week which resulted in the detention of two undocumented Excel Academy Charter School students.
Two Excel Academy Charter School students were among the 14 people detained as part of U.S. Border Patrol operation a week ago in Lincoln, N.H. Border Patrol officers established the checkpoint with the support of the Woodstock Police Department on Interstate 93 in Lincoln.
“Checkpoints are just one of the tools we utilize to enforce the immigration and other federal laws of our nation,” said Swanton Sector Border Patrol Chief Patrol Agent John Pfeifer. “In addition to technology, manpower and intelligence, checkpoints help to deny access to major routes of egress away from the border and into our communities in the interior of the U.S.”
The checkpoint was the first major enforcement action of this type in five years in New Hampshire and while it resulted in the detention of 25 undocumented immigrants, two of those immigrants were Excel Students who were thriving in school according to Excel’s Executive Director Owen Stearns. Stearns confirmed the students detained were enrolled in Excel’s 7th grade and 11 grade classes. School has already begun for one of the state’s top charter school.
In a statement Stearns said the two students, whose names have not been released, were ‘exceptional students’ and were involved in athletics at the school and were leaders in their class.
President Donald Trumps hardline stance on immigration and executive orders made people like Stearns nervous. With 80 percent of his student body Latino students from Eastie and surrounding neighborhoods Stearns said Excel families on alert, especially after Trump’s executive order calling for more Border Patrol checkpoint operations throughout the country.
“I think we sort of girding ourselves for this and are now very sad and distressed and angry that it happened,” said Stearns in a statement. “And also fearful that it may continue to happen and this may not be the last time.”
Civil liberties groups, including the ACLU, argue these checkpoints violate Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search and seizures.
“The Supreme Court has upheld the use of immigration checkpoints, but only insofar as the stops consist only of a brief and limited inquiry into residence status. Checkpoints cannot be primarily used for drug-search or general law enforcement efforts. In practice, however, Border Patrol agents often do not limit themselves to brief immigration inquiries and regularly conduct criminal investigations and illegal searches at checkpoints,” says ACLU-NH legal director Gilles Bissonnette in a statement.
While the checkpoint detained 25 undocumented immigrants, it also resulted in the seizure of two pounds of marijuana, as well as smaller amounts of cocaine, mushrooms and hash oil–all taken from U.S. citizens. This resulted in 32 arrests outside of the 25 people detained during the operation.
The detention of the two Excel students came a week before Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, escalating the White House’s targeting of immigrant communities.
“Repealing DACA subjects over 800,000 young people to deportation,” said Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Esq. “Beneficiaries of DACA, known as Dreamers, came to the United States as children and grew up here becoming integral members of our society. Deporting Dreamers would send them back to countries to which they have little or no connection and subject them in many cases to intense violence or poverty present in some of those countries. DACA’s repeal comes on the heels of pardoning ex-sheriff Joe Arpaio.”
The Chelsea Fire Department announced this week that they have secured a major federal grant to pay for the hiring of eight new firefighters in this year’s budget – with Chief Len Albanese saying the new recruits could hit the streets by Thanksgiving.
The Homeland Security grant provides $1.4 million of federal funding over a three-year period, covering 75 percent of the salary and benefits for two years. The third year of the grant will cover 35 percent of the share of salaries and benefits.
In the fourth year of the grant, the City would be responsible for 100 percent of the costs associated with the new hires.
Albanese said that in the end, concerns about not getting the grant due to Chelsea’s Sanctuary City status did not factor into whether the City did or did not get the grant as the application was put in last year.
Overall, the big news is that the Fire Department will go over 100 members for the first time in decades.
The grant will put the contingent up to 102 member.
“We’ve had 92 members for quite a while,” said the chief. “Prior to my arrival and when I got here and that’s a situation I assume goes back to the 1990s – post-receivership. (Last year), we added two members to get up to 94 and with the intention to add more. With the SAFER grant now in place, we can add eight new members and that brings our staffing up to 102…Having 102 is what we consider to be a really good staffing level for the Fire Department.”
He said that Revere’s contingent is at 98 and Everett – which also has a SAFER grant- is at 111.
He said adding the new members won’t eliminate overtime, but he believes it will bring it down to a reasonable number – eliminating what has been many years of controversy surrounding overspending on overtime.
“The purpose is to not just decrease overtime,” he said. “There’s always overtime in a 24/7 business…This will control overtime and put boots on the ground. It will stabilize overtime and increase staffing.”
Already, Albanese said he has identified the eight recruits from Civil Service, having been confident of getting the grant and taking early action. That will mean they get in the Station very quickly.
“We have eight recruits identified and they preparing to attend the Brookline Fire Academy on Sept. 5,” he said. “That means if all goes well, we will have these additional firefighters on the street by Thanksgiving.”
Along with this grant and another recently received, the fire department has garnered $2 million of federal funding from the 2016 DHS/FEMA programs.
Senator Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) and his colleagues in the Senate recently passed comprehensive legislation to modernize municipal finance and governance laws in Massachusetts, including provisions to eliminate or update obsolete laws, promote local independence, streamline state oversight and provide greater flexibility for cities and towns.
“This bill give our partners in local government the tools to operate in a more effective and efficient manner,” said DiDomenico. “By increasing flexibility and removing unnecessary burdens on our cities and towns, I am confident that this legislation will provide municipalities with the tools needed to best serve our residents and help communities across our Commonwealth prosper.”
The bill eliminates or updates obsolete laws that no longer serve a meaningful purpose, including the repeal of county government finance reporting requirements and changes to the civil motor vehicle infraction law to allow cities and towns to issue citations electronically.
The bill promotes local autonomy for cities and towns, allowing for more control over certain funding decisions and local regulations. For example, the bill allows municipalities to enter into joint powers agreements to provide services regionally and reduces the state’s role in setting liquor license quotas for on-premises drinking.
The bill also streamlines state oversight of many tax collection procedures to make the process more transparent and predictable for local officials.
Finally, the bill takes steps to provide municipalities with greater flexibility, including a study on double utility poles, changes to procurement laws to simplify, clarify and increase thresholds for construction contracts and updates to the way municipalities use parking revenues, to allow for use on a wide range of transportation-related issues.
A conference committee will now resolve the differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill.
In what has become the first big squabble on the new City Council, many councillors are at odds over the decision to block a vote on the controversial police and fire residency ordinance that was expected to come to a vote on Monday night, but instead was ruled out of order by Council President Dan Cortell before any vote could take place.
The Council has been debating for the last month the latest measure by Councillor Giovanni Recupero, which requires new hires of the police and fire departments to remain living in Chelsea for seven years before being allowed to move out of town. Already, anyone taking the Civil Service exam to be a police or firefighter has to have lived in the City one year.
The matter had been in Conference Committee and was discussed at length on Feb. 15 between councillors, with a roughly even split set of opinions on the matter.
In other words, it was going to be a down-to-the-wire vote.
On Monday night, at the regular Council meeting, the stage was set.
When the time came to pull the matter out of Committee, the votes seemed to swing heavily towards those in favor of the ordinance.
Then, after it was read publicly, Cortell ruled it out of order, and City Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher said the ordinance violated, in her opinion, several parts of the City Charter. The most critical part was that it interfered with the “day to day operations” of the City Manager – a major taboo in Chelsea’s Charter and something frequently cited in efforts by the Council.
With the vote blocked by Cortell via Watson’s legal opinion, which she gave verbally on Monday and also had submitted in written form late last week, the tension grew.
Recupero ordered an appeal of the decision and wanted a vote to overrule the chair – a common practice allowed by Council Rule #3. With the votes seemingly with Recupero, it was believed that he would be able to overrule the chair and still bring the matter to a vote.
However, Cortell said he would not allow Recupero to overrule him because, in this instance, it wasn’t allowed. That set off an argument and, even as late as Wednesday afternoon, was still in hot dispute amongst the councillors.
Cortell explained that the one exception, in his opinion, to Rule #3 is that the chair cannot be overruled if the matter at hand violates the Council Rules or the U.S. Constitution. He felt that both were being violated and that Recupero could not force the overrule vote.
Cortell said there is much more to the case than what most believe, and there was no case here of him using his power to squash the matter.
Others, however, disagree, saying that similar ordinances and orders on residency have come up for a vote in the past – when the vote count was not so favorable for passage – and it was always allowed to be discussed and voted upon. Usually, in those times, it always lost and there was never any discussion of such a thing violating the Charter or the Constitution.
Recupero dismissed the entire proceeding, saying that he had the votes and it simply got “squashed.”
“I had the votes; it was going to pass and they blocked it,” he said. “In other words, we can’t do anything. It never was the case before when we voted on this and didn’t have the votes. Now, we can’t make any ordinances apparently because they interfere with the day-to-day operations. So, what is the point of us? It’s kind of strange, now they rule it out of order. Imagine that.”
Cortell said there are very good reasons for his decision, and he said there was a lot of behind the scenes back and forth during the meeting.
“The following four motions are never in order, even if adopted by a unanimous vote,” said Cortell. “Number 1 being, motions which conflict with laws (federal, state or local), or bylaws, constitution, or rules of the organization. I also want to point out the the City Solicitor is the individual who is tasked to defend the City when legal matters are arise. No one thinks this Ordinance, if passed, is not going to be contested either immediately by the Unions, at some point in the future and most certainly when a firing or other form discipline that results from it takes place. The contest may even be done in the form of injunctive relief before there is an actual violation or on purpose upon the next new hiring so as to test it.”
Councillor Leo Robinson, an advocate for passing the ordinance, said he believed that Watson Fisher was totally wrong in her opinion. He said he plans to ask for second opinion and he wants to get a legal opinion on Council Rule #3.
“In the past this ordinance has come up on the floor, which was reviewed by the City Solicitor and everything was in order,” he said. “Several votes had been taken in the past and it was voted down. The ordinance was re-introduced after being reviewed by the City Solicitor this time. The president allowed the ordinance to be moved to committee. As the president is the person who arranges the conference committee, which was held and the City Solicitor said there that if it passes that it could be negotiated. At the regular Council meeting, the City Solicitor and the president stated that this was out of order. When I asked which rule they were referring to, I didn’t get an answer. I want to get a ruling now on Rule #3, the powers of the president. Cheryl reviewed this previously and said it was fine.”
Councillor Damali Vidot, who has spoken frequently on the matter, said she believed the situation reflected on a process that wasn’t fair or transparent. She added that while residency isn’t her pet issue, constituents frequently tell her it is something they really want passed.
“This is a power struggle that has existed way before the new councillors like myself came and I don’t want anyone to attempt to use us as pawns,” she said. “What happened Monday denied councilors who represent the people the right to speak and the right to vote. Regardless of which way the voting would have gone, my main concern is that the process is always fair and transparent. And it wasn’t.”
Cortell said the view of the ordinance changed on Monday because of Watson Fisher’s written opinion. He said he could not let it go forward after reading the ways that it violated the Charter.
“Passing this Ordinance, instead of it being just an order, will unquestionably result in a lawsuit as no one thinks a police officer or firefighter is going to accept not getting paid, fired or any other punishment without fighting it,” he said. “This alone is a reason even someone who is in favor of the Ordinance in principle might decide it’s not something worth the fight it will inevitably cause at some time sooner or later.”
There was no official tally of what the votes were lined up to be had it gone to a vote, but informal polls showed it likely had the required six votes, and perhaps even seven.
Tuesday night featured the long-anticipated Residency Ordinance committee discussion amongst the new City Council, and when the cards had been laid on the table, it appeared to be a 5-5 tie with Councillor Roy Avellaneda still holding his cards close to the chest – likely to be the deciding vote if the measure comes to a roll call.
Members of the City Council, police union officials, fire union officials, City Manager Tom Ambrosino and interested residents packed the meeting room on Tuesday to learn about what could be done and where decision-makers stood on the issue.
The matter of a residency ordinance for new hires in the police and fire department has been before the Council scores of times over the past few years, and this time around Councillor Giovanni Recupero and other supporters were looking to give the populist cause another run with six new councillors now seated.
In this iteration of the proposed ordinance, which holds high popularity with the voters of the city, Recupero has called for all newly hired police officers and firefighters to remain living in the city for five years after being hired. Right now, anyone taking the Civil Service test to become a police officer or firefighter must have lived in Chelsea one year prior to taking the test. That develops the residency hiring preference, but many fret that some officers and firefighters leave town after being hired.
Others, however, weren’t so worried about where these folks lived, but rather how they performed their jobs.
City Solicitor Cheryl Fisher Watson said 39 of 102 police officers live in Chelsea and 17 of 88 firefighters live in Chelsea. Overall, out of all City employees, 38.8 percent (out of 876 employees) reside in Chelsea. Recupero’s initiative would only apply to newly hired police and fire, though.
“It makes good sense for them to live here with us,” said Recupero. “They would provide us with a middle class in our city, which we do not have. The middle class drives us. The average person in Chelsea doesn’t make that much money. They make $25,000 or $30,000, while police and fire make $75,000 or $80,000. They also get to see with their own eyes what the people go through every day. They would be more involved in the community. The gain is you live in the community, work in the community and are part of the community. If it’s such a bad idea, why does Boston, Everett and Malden do it?”
Recupero found allies in Councillor Damali Vidot, Luis Tejada, Enio Lopez and Leo Robinson.
Vidot said she may not totally agree with the ordinance, but sees that her constituents overwhelmingly want it.
“It is overwhelming the amount of people that want the police to live in the city,” she said. “I am representing the community. When I speak with them, this is what they want. If I’m here because the public voted me here, I have to represent them. I have to say it is overwhelming that the people want the police and fire to live here and it should be DPW and other departments too.”
Said Lopez, “If they buy a house here, they live there and pay taxes to the City. That should be a gain to the City. Plus, the young people will see them as an example and something to look up to.”
Others did not agree, including Council President Dan Cortell – who has long opposed the idea.
“We have about 40 percent of the police living here and 20 percent of the firefighters living here and without requiring it,” he said. “I have always said the day those numbers are down to 5 percent, I would consider this. If there are that many living here in Chelsea now by their own choice, we have good numbers. It’s not broken and we don’t need to fix it.”
He was joined by Councillors Judith Garcia, Yamir Rodriguez, Matt Frank and Paul Murphy.
“The ordinance would make it hard to track down people,” he said. “I don’t believe we would have implied distrust of our police and firefighters.”
Garcia said she wanted to focus on the best person for the job.
“If we are going to get the best officers, we need to focus on recruitment and not residency,” she said, noting that studies from Washington State University and others have proven that residency ordinances don’t necessarily make communities safer – in perception or reality.
The only councillor who didn’t make his or her opinion known was Avellaneda, and he will likely be a deciding factor if an when the measure hits the floor of the Council.
Union officials were adamant in their distaste for the proposed ordinance, both fire and police unions.
“As a union president and a taxpayer, I don’t care if they live on Webster Ave or Mass Ave, as long as they can do the job well,” said Police Patrolmen’s Union President Mark O’Connor.
Fisher Watson said if the ordinance were to pass, it would only be a recommendation to City Manager Tom Ambrosino – who may or may not choose to enforce the ordinance. It would also, if passed, require a new collective bargaining agreement with the public safety unions.
The nation’s highest court declined to review the appeal of a Chelsea man convicted in part through DNA evidence, letting stand a Massachusetts court ruling that a warrant is not necessary for investigators to perform DNA testing of lawfully seized evidence.
The Supreme Court of the United States on Friday denied a petition for review filed on behalf of Manuel Arzola, 47, who was convicted in 2012 of stabbing another man in Chelsea. Among the evidence at trial was a bloodstain on Arzola’s shirt, which was lawfully seized at the time of his arrest; that stain was subjected to DNA testing that revealed the blood had come from the victim.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court last year affirmed Arzola’s conviction. In a 21-page decision, the SJC justices rejected arguments made by Arzola and the American Civil Liberties Union that DNA profiles used by members of law enforcement – such as the profile developed from Arzola’s seized clothing – reveal private information beyond the sex and unique identity of the person who provided the DNA sample.
By declining to review Arzola’s appeal, the Supreme Court left in place the SJC’s decision that cited the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision finding DNA testing no more invasive than fingerprinting. In that case, Maryland v. King, the Supreme Court ruled that the standardized testing method used by law enforcement examines only the identity of the contributor by looking at 16 loci – or allele locations along a strand of DNA – in order to compare genetic profiles and determine identity. Used this way, the testing method does not reveal genetic dispositions toward medical conditions or other private information – contrary to Arzola’s claims on appeal.
“Apart from the source’s sex,” Chief Justice Ralph Gants wrote in the 2015 SJC decision, “the DNA analysis of the unknown sample taken from the defendant’s lawfully seized shirt revealed nothing more than the identity of the source, which is what an analysis of latent fingerprints would have revealed (albeit with less accuracy) had they been found on the clothing …. Although we recognize that the science of DNA analysis may evolve and enable DNA profiling to uncover from these loci information more personal than the identity and sex of its source, the loci tested in this case ‘are not at present revealing information beyond identification’ and sex.”
Arzola is currently serving a seven-year prison term for the non-fatal stabbing of a man in Chelsea after the victim denied his request for money or cigarettes in 2010. The victim fled to a nearby firehouse and was rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital for treatment. He was able to provide a description of his attacker, and, based on that description, responding Chelsea Police stopped Arzola nearby and arrested him on an outstanding warrant.
Though he had no visible injuries at the time of his arrest, police observed a large blood stain on Arzola’s shirt and lawfully seized it. A DNA profile developed from the bloodstain was compared to a sample provided by the victim and to a sample obtained from Arzola through a court order; the scientific testing proved that the blood belonged to the victim. In addition, the victim later identified Arzola as his attacker in a photo array.
The nation will honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monday on the annual holiday that pays tribute to this great civil rights leader and humanitarian.
Dr. King would have been 87 years old Friday and we can only imagine how proud he would be of the America we live in today.
Many Americans remember Dr. King for his famous “I Have A Dream” speech that he delivered in Washington, D.C. as part of The March on Washington in 1963. It is truly one of the greatest speeches in American history, one that we admire for its message and Dr. King’s splendid delivery of its content.
Dr. King was deservedly recognized universally for fighting for what he believed in and for what was right. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and following his death in 1968 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
We recently came across a poem that was written by a local junior high student following the death of Dr. King. Following is the conclusion of that poem:
Martin Luther King had many talents for one single man
Such as making speeches and bettering his land,
But too bad all great things must come to an end,
We have lost Martin Luther King, everybody’s friend.
On Monday, we hope you will take the time to honor this great American, who forever changed this country for the better by bringing the advancement of civil rights into the nation’s focus
Of all of our national holidays, Memorial Day is the most solemn. Memorial Day reminds us of the Supreme Sacrifice that has been made by so many of our fellow citizens to keep us a free people and provides us with an opportunity to honor their sacrifice.
Memorial Day has its roots in what originally was known as Decoration Day after the Civil War, when the women of communities in the North decorated the graves of the soldiers who perished in that horrific and tragic conflict.
In keeping with the spirit of Decoration Day and the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War (which still ranks as the worst war in our history in terms of the number of Americans who gave their lives or who were injured) last month, we are reprinting below Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, considered by many to be one of the greatest speeches of all time and which states far more eloquently than we ever could the debt that each of us owes to the brave men and women who have fought and died to defend our nation’s freedom and liberty. We think you will agree that Abraham Lincoln’s words are as beautiful and as inspiring today as they were when he uttered them in November of 1863 at Gettysburg:
“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
“But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
At the Chelsea Collaborative, Director Gladys Vega (front) said they are seeing joy and pain when it comes to President Barack Obama’s Nov. 20 executive order on immigration. While Laura Galeano (back) qualified under the order, Patricia Clara (center) did not qualify. Vega said they applaud the order, but are calling for greater reforms.
As Laura Galeano and her family watched CNN on Nov. 20 for the announcement by President Barack Obama of a controversial executive order that would seemingly clear the path and protect about 4.5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, a tear streamed down the 37-year-old Galeano’s face.
Her daughter, who was born in the United States and attends Chelsea schools, was puzzled at the emotion.
Why would her mother cry about something that didn’t affect her directly?
Then the young lady looked at her father and her brother – who were also crying.
“My daughter said, ‘You’re all undocumented?'” recalled Galeano. “She said, ‘Mom, I can’t believe it. I never knew all of you were undocumented.’ It was the first time in her life that she knew her mother, father and brother had been hiding in the shadows all this time. I had to tell her we were undocumented. She never knew until that night. My son knew, but she never knew that we were all undocumented except her. I never wanted to tell her; I didn’t want her to worry about it or think about it.
“Imagine, I have a blended family with citizenship and that’s hard,” she continued. “My daughter is a citizen and has all the rights and privileges of a citizen. My son is completely undocumented and has access to nothing. He couldn’t participate in the summer work programs, and college has been on our minds. It was devastating to him…My only hope was that my daughter would get older and would remember her brother and be good to him due to her opportunities. It was just such a happy night to know we didn’t have to worry about that anymore.”
The announcement two weeks ago, as controversial as it was, was heart-rendering for those who are here illegally and have existed without status for some time. For all of those who, like Galeano, were overjoyed by the announcement, so many others were heartbroken because they seemingly didn’t fit into the circle of protection. Many who recently came as unaccompanied minors do not qualify and those who have been here for years, but don’t have children, also don’t qualify.
Chelsea Collaborative Director Gladys Vega said it truly was bitter and sweet at the same time. She said about 30 people gathered at Tito’s Bakery to watch the announcement together, and it was quite apparent that there were two stories unfolding with the announcement.
“I watched a man and woman at the viewing party who are married and were holding hands,” said Vega. “The woman was so overjoyed because she had a child from a previous marriage and she qualified under the order. However, her husband had no children and it didn’t seem like he qualified. They were happy and they were heartbroken at the same time. What will happen to him? We see so many of those situations.”
While a lot of the initial excitement has died down and other news items have cropped up on the front pages instead, Vega said they are just now getting down to the nitty gritty of what the order means. So much of it, she said, is still unknown and she said there is a clear need for more meaningful reform.
“Now we wait, just like deferred action two years ago,” she said. ” We waited about 60 days for that and when the specifics came down we had meetings here and processed all the papers. The next step for many people is to gather up papers that show they’ve been here five years and have children who are citizens. Documents are important and people need to save all their documents. A lot of people we know are doing just that right now.”
She said more needs to be done though in Washington, D.C.
“Having the executive order is great, but it’s just the beginning of what we ought to be doing to address all the people who the U.S. has not been able to deal with for so long,” she said. “For me, it’s very, very important that when it comes to immigration, we need to deal with and legalize everyone that is here.”
MANY LEFT OUT
Part of the reason the seemingly joyous occasion is a mixed bag is that of the millions who are here illegally, only a portion seem to fit into the most recent circle of protection. Two years ago, some 2 million young people brought as children were protected by deferred action. It is estimated that the recent order will protect 4.5 million. That leaves more than, perhaps, 10 million still in the lurch.
One of those is Chelsea resident Patricia Clara – who has been active in Chelsea for several years after overstaying her visa from Italy in 2003. A difficult family situation and her decision to come out as a lesbian have complicated her quest for legality. Once a nun serving God in Italy, Clara is childless and finds herself outside the lines of the Nov. 20 announcement.
“As I was reading about it on Nov. 20 and not being able to identify myself in the executive order or whether I fit into that hole, I just said, ‘I don’t care anymore,'” she said. “It was frustrating. I just decided there was really nothing for me to do except check my papers with my sister again.”
Clara grew up in El Salvador during the Civil War years and witnessed the murder of a family member while playing on a playground. With her life in danger, she fled to Guatemala – hiding under watermelons as she was smuggled on a fruit cart over the border to an uncle.
She would really never see her parents again.
In Guatemala, she spent most of her time in the church and began a route to serving God as a nun. Eventually she was transferred to a convent in Italy and became a nun there for eight years. However, around 2001 she said she began to have doubts, and made the decision to come out as a lesbian. The convent gave her time to think about it, and she got visas to travel to the Boston area several times over a two-year period.
In 2003, she made a final decision to leave her service in Italy and overstay her visa. She was also in the middle of applying for citizenship through her sister, who lived in Chelsea.
However, Clara said her personal declarations got in the way of that, and it left her without status due to no longer being protected by the church and what she believes are reservations by her sister. Now, she would face deportation back to a country – El Salvador – that she hasn’t seen since she was a young child.
“It was very hard for me because I left the work I was doing; I left my service to God,” she said. “It was very hard for my sister to accept that I had left my service. I don’t know what became of my documentation. My sister was helping me and things were going well until I came out as a lesbian. I don’t think my sister liked that and she wanted me to be a nun and didn’t accept it. We did everything right and I paid the fees. We have a letter and it said they received my papers. I had appointments. I just don’t know what happened, and I’m still in the dark. This didn’t help me, but I’m just not afraid anymore.”
JOY CANNOT BE MEASURED
As tough as many found it who were left out, those like Galeano had an unbelievable weight lifted.
Galeano, her husband and her son, who was 1, came to Chelsea 13 years ago on a visa from Uruguay. When their visa expired, they stayed.
For a long time, they weren’t working because they were scared. However, Galeano eventually began working at a cafe and gradually was less fearful of going to work.
But the fear and guilt of being here illegally was the guiding light in almost everything has happened in her and her husband’s life since coming to Chelsea. Even in pregnancy – when she had her daughter – the status issue turned the happy time into a horrible experience.
“My pregnancy was not happy at all,” she said. “It was happy to know I had a life in me, but unhappy because I had no idea what would happen to that baby when I had to face the truth and tell people I was undocumented. We kept that a secret. We were afraid they would put my baby up for adoption when they learned I didn’t have my papers. That was such a big fear for us.”
The fear was unfounded, naturally, but the sense of not knowing the consequences at every major step in life was something that Galeano has had to live with.
A summer job for her son became a heartbreaking time.
Getting a job for herself required a lot of explaining.
Taking the kids to the park was risky.
Enrolling kids in school and even calling the police when a crime had occurred; all were routine things that were part of the great unknown for Galeano. Every mundane action, she said, was a potential opportunity to be deported back to Uruguay.
It’s why the Nov. 20 announcement was so powerful for her.
“I feel happy and I feel free,” she said. “I feel like I can let my son go out and I can go out and be safe from authorities that are safeguarding the community. My biggest fear was calling the police if I had a problem with my neighbor or I saw something suspicious. I wanted to call so many times, but I didn’t know what would happen to me.”
For Galeano, 9-1-1 is not so scary any longer, and the fear around every corner has subsided – even if just temporarily.