Apr 20, 2014 Updated: 8:21 PM
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
By Sarah Birnbaum & Cristina Quinn | Wednesday, July 11, 2012
July 12, 2012
BOSTON — Massachusetts House lawmakers have pushed back against Gov. Deval Patrick on welfare restrictions, mental health and immigration checks.
EBT and the RMV
When he signed the budget on July 8, the governor rejected a measure that would have banned the use of EBT swipe cards at jewelry stores and nail salons, saying he wasn't going to make vulnerable people beg for their benefits. He also rejected a provision that would require the Registry of Motor Vehicles to ask for proof of legal residency. He said state agencies should not enforce federal immigration law.
But on July 11, House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to keep the original proposals alive. Rep. Carl Sciortino (D-Medford) opposed the governor’s changes but he said he was doing so with a heavy heart.
“This is a difficult debate and a difficult decision and I hope as a body we can get back to the debate about how we take care of the working families that are struggling against the Commonwealth rather than penalizing families who are seeking our assistance,” he said.
> > LISTEN: Emily Rooney discusses the EBT issue on Boston Public Radio
Taunton State Hospital
Lawmakers also voted unanimously to override a line-item veto that would have eliminated the 45 inpatient mental health beds at Taunton State Hospital, making Worcester the nearest location for inpatient treatment.
Rep. Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset) encouraged fellow lawmakers to show empathy: “If your loved one had a heart condition, and you were told that the only place they could go was Worcester, how would you feel? Would you willingly accept that as an answer? Well, I’m asking you if that’s fair to people with mental illness in their families — and I think you’re all going to answer 'no.'"
Rep. Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown) added that her constituents already faced enough of a transportation challenge as is. "Taunton is already quite the drive and quite the trip to make, and as we know, and as we’re treating people with their mental health issues, their support system is critically important,” she said.
After the vote, Karen Coughlin, a longtime nurse at Taunton State, said she was thrilled. "Success all around is the way we look at it," she said. "We would have liked to avoid this — would we have liked to have more than 45 beds? Absolutely. But you know what, we will take this as a victory."
The issues now move on to the Senate for further action — and ultimately back to Patrick for his final review.
By Toni Waterman | Wednesday, June 27, 2012
June 27, 2012
WALTHAM, Mass. — When it comes to the battle of the bling, no one does it better then the Gypsies.
An enigma to most, Gypsies are the latest reality television stars in TLC’s "My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding." The show delves into the glitzy and bedazzled side of Gypsy life, mostly in the South. It’s a culture where bigger and “bling-ier” is always better. And when a Gypsy girl is looking to blind her competition, she turns to Waltham, Mass.–based dressmaker Sondra Celli. That’s what 14-year-old Priscilla did when she was looking for her “coming-out” dress.
“Priscilla’s outfit was completely bling,” said Celli. “The boots were 43,000 stones. The outfit was close to that if not more. And the fringe on that was all cup chain that was sterling silver with crystal stone in it.”
In the North, an expert in dazzle
Celli is the highly coveted, turn-to Gypsy designer for everything from wedding dresses to shoes to blinged-out pacifiers.
It all started 33 years ago when Celli was selling her designs to a department store.
“Nobody had cellphones and computers. And some of them are pretty savvy — they got a consultant at the department store to move away from the desk and they went through the Rolodex and found my number,” said Celli.
She started getting inundated with phone calls, all asking for clothes to be shipped to the same address.
“They kept saying they were stores and I thought, ‘How could there be this many stores on one street?’" Celli said. It turned out, "I was actually shipping to a trailer park. And I was floored."
She’s been shipping to them ever since. “I love working for them because I have complete freedom. I am the luckiest girl creatively because they give me freedom to use my brain and go with it and they trust me,” said Celli.
She enters the spangled spotlight
Celli also makes bar mitzvah dresses, but with over 1.6 million viewers of the TLC show each week, it’s her Gypsy dresses that have become the main attraction. Mother-daughter duo Deb and Bridget Freely popped into the shop recently to see the dresses up close.
“The dresses are so magical,” said Bridget Freely. “One of the dresses actually lit up, and it had little lights all over it. And that was amazing.”
Mom Deb Freely said the over-the-top dresses weren’t her style, but she appreciated the work that went into making them. She was more fascinated with the Gypsy culture: "I’m not a huge fan of reality TV shows, but … you get to learn something new about another culture that exists in our own country and we didn’t know about it."
If you drop into Celli’s store, you won’t actually see a lot of Gypsy dresses on display. She mostly makes them to order. But there was a white one on display in June draped in crystals and mink, going for a mere $20,000. You’ll need more than money to pull it off — you’ll need brute force: the dress weighs 79 pounds.
Promote small business: buy bling
Celli said business has exploded since the show debuted in April. Her staff of eight women gluing rhinestones and crystals for 60 hours a week couldn't keep up with demand.
“As of next week, we will be 16 of us,” said Celli. “We’re breaking the walls next week just to put more people in here and cut the showroom space down because we need more space to rhinestone in.”
After all, for the Gypsies, there’s no such thing as too much bling. Celli says it’s very rare that she gets something returned.
“And if I do, it’s because it needed more bling. We bling it up, so bling it on!"
By Sarah Birnbaum | Monday, June 25, 2012
June 25, 2012
BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick — who has advocated for immigrant needs in the past — praised the U.S. Supreme Court for striking down key provisions of Arizona's crackdown on immigrants on June 25. But Patrick wasn't entirely satisfied. He called the Supreme Court ruling a mixed bag.
“Most of the provisions of the Arizona law have been ruled unconstitutional. That sounds right," he said. However, "some of the things that were preserved having to do with the ability to stop and ask questions, you know, you can see how that creates a climate of fear, especially if the Supreme Court has said you can’t actually do anything with that information.”
Patrick has favored expanding immigrant health care options, allowing in-state UMass tuition rates and providing driver's licenses to undocumented immigrants. But some advocates said he has failed to push immigration issues strongly enough on Beacon Hill.
As he was leaving his office, Patrick got into a heated exchange with students demanding a stronger stance.
“You know you said you were going to do something for us — at least give us licenses. I’m undocumented and I've been here for 8 years, I'm putting myself through school right now, I'm paying out-of-state [tuition]," one woman said.
"And I can’t do what the federal government won’t let me do," Patrick responded. "I tried to do that. But there's a federal law that prohibits it."
"We can’t just live in the shadows!" she said.
"I understand that! I’m on your side," Patrick said. "I’ve said that a million times. These provisions aren’t before me yet. I’ve been as clear as possible, not just with you but with the legislature, that if they come to me, it’s over,“
There are measures pending in the legislature that would require new immigration status checks for employment, state housing and driver's licenses. Patrick said if they get to his desk he’ll oppose them, though he didn’t explicitly promise a veto.
By Toni Waterman | Tuesday, June 19, 2012
June 20, 2012
BOSTON — Deivid Ribeiro sat at a hand-me-down table in the Student Immigration Movement office in Boston’s Chinatown.
“We have to celebrate!” he said excitedly to two friends. “I haven’t celebrated yet!”
For the 23-year-old, the June 15 immigration announcement has abated a gnawing fear. “I’ve always had the thought in the back of my mind, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen if I get pulled over, or anything, and I’d get detained,’” he said. “I’ve always had that fear.”
The road up until Friday
That’s because Ribeiro and his family are illegal immigrants, having arrived from Brazil 15 years ago. I spoke with Ribeiro in 2010, as he anxiously watched Congress debate the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act would put young illegal immigrants like Ribeiro, who were brought to the U.S. as kids, on a path to citizenship if they complete 2 years of college or served in the military.
But the bill never passed. So Ribeiro went on with life, which in his case meant more physics classes at Brown University. Then came President Barack Obama’s surprise announcement.
“It makes no sense to expel talented young people who for all intents and purposes are Americans,” said the president.
Ribeiro said his reaction was instant relief.
“I was instantly — OK, I don’t have to worry about that as much anymore. OK. I’m secure,” he said, laughing.
Effective immediately, an estimated 800,000 young illegal immigrants are now shielded from deportation and will be given work permits if they meet certain requirements: They had to be under 16 years old when they arrived in the U.S. and be under 30 now; they have to have lived here for 5 continuous years; they must have a high school diploma or a GED or have served in the military; and they have to have a clean record.
“I’ll be able to get a job, interning at school or be able to get a job that will [let] me have health insurance, or dental insurance,” said Ribeiro. “All of those things would be new things that I haven’t had in my life.”
Doubts and the DREAM
But some, including Ribeiro, are questioning the president’s timing. It’s an election year and some of Obama’s supporters are upset with his lackluster approach to immigration reform — something he promised during the last presidential elections.
“Yeah. Took way too long. Even this is a small step, but even this little step took way too long,” said Ribeiro. “I wish he had done it earlier because he had more support earlier with the Congress more Democrat.”
Ribeiro also wished the change went further and offered a path to citizenship — something the DREAM Act would have done.
“There’s so much more with the citizenship. If I was able to get the work permit, that would allow me to get certain jobs, but I would still not be able to get certain types of benefits,” said Ribeiro. “I would still worry about insurance or worry about what would happen if the law was changed, if there’s a new president. Whereas, if there was citizenship, permanent residency, then I’d be protected by the law.”
But with this latest policy shift causing such an uproar in Congress, it’s unlikely the DREAM Act will pass anytime soon.
By Sarah Birnbaum | Thursday, May 24, 2012
May 24, 2012
BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate is expected to debate a controversial amendment to the state budget that would require the Registry of Motor Vehicles to check for proof of lawful immigration status before issuing driver's licenses.
The amendment is sponsored by Senate Republican leader Bruce Tarr. He said its a response to the case of President Barack Obama’s uncle, Onyango Obama, who was arrested in Framingham last year on a drunk-driving charge. He was able to get his license back after a period of probation, even though he had been in the U.S. illegally since the 1990s.
Onyango Obama's immigration status came to light after his arrest. Federal officials then launched new efforts to deport the president's uncle, who plans to fight the deportation.
The RMV is not required under state law to check immigration status and officials have said that the president's uncle presented the necessary documentation to obtain a license.
Eva Milona of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition opposes the measure, saying the RMV doesn’t have the resources or expertise to enforce federal immigration law.
“This amendment, in our view, it’s not an improvement on current policy, but would instead create more confusion and creates wrongful denials of licenses to documented applicants," she said. "Our concern is that it might refuse a driver's license or learner’s permit to anyone that it would have reasonable cause to suspect has presented invalid proof of immigration status.”
Milona also blasted Republicans for loading up the state budget with what she called anti-immigrant amendments.