Mass.gov. offers 2 sites for unaccompanied children
BOSTON -- Gov. Deval Patrick on Friday proposed two possible locations in Massachusetts to temporarily shelter unaccompanied children crossing the nation’s southern border.
Camp Edwards military base on Cape Cod and Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee will be reviewed by officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to see if either is suitable for housing the children, most of whom are coming from Central America, Patrick said.
Only one site would be selected, if any facility in Massachusetts is chosen.
Patrick said the federal government is looking for places that can house up to 1,000 children for four months.
He said each child would stay for an average of about 35 days and that all expenses will be picked up by the federal government while they are being processed for deportation, reunification or asylum.
The children would receive food, care and education while at the facility, Patrick said, and will not attend local schools. All children would receive a medical screening before entering the state, including all essential vaccines.
Patrick said no final decision has been made yet on whether either facility would be suitable as a shelter or when any children may start arriving.
Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos said he’s also concerned about the humanitarian plight, but said locating children at Westover Air Force Base doesn’t make sense, citing insufficient housing and few facilities needed to care for children.
"It does not work for those children, and it does not work for the city of Chicopee," Kos told reporters at city hall Friday afternoon according to The Republican newspaper. "We are more than skeptical."
More than 57,000 children have crossed into the country over the southern border since the fall, mostly from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some U.S. residents have opposed housing the children within their communities, spurring protests in California and Arizona.
Patrick, who at times appeared emotional during a morning press conference, said the country and the state have a moral responsibility to look after the unaccompanied minors.
"There are children alone in a foreign land," Patrick said. "This good nation is great when we open our doors and our hearts to needy children and diminished when we don’t."
Patrick said that any memorandum of understanding signed with the federal government will specify that the federal government will be responsible for the cost of running the facility, what period of time the facility would be open, and the conditions under which there could be an extension.
Patrick said other states have received similar requests from the federal government to aid in what he called a "humanitarian crisis."
State Rep. Brad Jones, the House Republican leader, said in a statement on Thursday that he will convene a meeting next week to discuss the potential impact on Massachusetts of what he called a "national immigration crisis."
President Barack Obama has requested $3.7 billion in emergency spending to help address the situation at the border. Congressional Republicans have been pushing to significantly pare down that request.
There is precedent for Massachusetts offering temporary shelter in crisis situations. In 2005, 235 Hurricane Katrina evacuees were housed at Camp Edwards until they could be placed in permanent housing.
In Connecticut, state officials recently rejected a federal request to temporarily house up to 2,000 immigrant children from Central America at a mostly vacant facility built for developmentally disabled adults, pointing in part to what they said was the facility’s size and deteriorating condition.
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