A forum on immigration, featuring the , drew a mixed group of longtime residents and recent immigrants to Thursday, for a "peaceful dialogue" on a politically charged issue.
More than 50 people attended the forum, including the families of and , two Milford men who were killed in collisions with drivers who, police say, were illegal immigrants.
The meeting was organized by pastors Hector and Monsi Quinones of Freedom Life Church, which draws a predominantly Spanish-speaking congregation to its downtown services. Addressing the audience, Hector Quinones said the purpose was "to take a moment to have a peaceful dialogue. This is an important night. It's necessary."
The forum had been expected to draw larger numbers of attendees from the Ecuadorian community, but only a few appeared. Hector Quinones said "there were some concerns from a certain portion of the Ecuadorian community of how they would be received, or how their presence would be interpreted here."
Police Chief Thomas O'Loughlin, who was invited to speak by the church, addressed several questions, including some that focused on , and relations between the police department and the immigrant communities in Milford.
"My responsibility is not to enforce immigration laws," O'Loughlin said. "That's the responsibility of the federal government. It's not a local or a state responsibility, it's a federal responsibility."
Local police, he said, as best they are able, are required "to assure the safety of the people of Milford and their property. That's every person."
Although no one has made a specific complaint, O'Loughlin said he has learned, through media outlets, that some of the Ecuadorians living in town have experienced harrassment in recent weeks.
As he explained, someone shouting out a window "Go home!" is using speech protected by the First Amendment. If that person yelled "Go home or I'll beat you up," O'Loughlin said: "That's illegal."
Police are aware of the tension, he said, and encourage anyone with a problem to contact them. The department has officers and detectives who speak Spanish and or Portuguese. Attending the forum, with O'Loughlin, was Carlos Sousa, a detective fluent in all three languages.
For the most part, people attending the forum listened without asking questions. Among those who did was an Ecuadorian construction worker, Jonathan Leon. He referred to the case involving Nicolas Guaman, an Ecuadorian who is charged with several offenses relating to the Aug. 20 death of Matthew Denice.
Leon, through Monsi Quinones, acting as an interpreter, told Chief O'Loughlin that what his countryman did "is something that is making it very difficult for those of us who are Ecuadorian" and who love this country. He asked the chief why there appears to be "an increased number of pullovers" for those who appear to look Ecuadorian.
showing no increase since the death of Denice in police issuing citations for people driving without a license. "The numbers don't bear out the perception," O'Loughlin said.
Officers can pull people over if they have probable cause that a violation has occurred. But the vehicle stops are not being done based on ethnicity, he said, or people's appearances.
"I could stand out here on this corner, for eight hours a day," and if I pulled over every driver who I thought was Ecuadorian and driving without a license, O'Loughlin said: "We'd probably have a road block. It's not done."