Emotions remain high over Gov. Deval Patrick’s offer to temporarily house unaccompanied immigrant children in Massachusetts. No final decision has been made about where the children would stay, if federal authorities accept the offer.
Gov. Patrick said comments to his office are running as high as three-to-one in favor of his offer to shelter some of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied children who have streamed across the country’s southern border this year. Patrick said he had received no new information from the federal government since he made the offer on July 18th.
Patrick proposed Westover Air Force Reserve Base in Chicopee and the Camp Edwards military base on Cape Cod as possible locations. Local officials have sounded alarm bells.
Patrick, last Friday, turned down an invitation from elected officials in Chicopee to come there to talk with them about the proposal.
"When and if the federal government decides they want to use Westover there will be plenty of time to engage."
The governor said local officials have nothing to be concerned about because the children will be kept in a secure facility run and paid for by the federal government.
About 1,000 people gathered in front of the State House over the weekend to protest Patrick’s offer to shelter the immigrant children. About 100 people rallied against the proposal at a highway rotary in Chicopee near the main entrance to Westover.
" I think the people standing up to the government right now is going to make a big change in this issue," said protestor Wendy Olbrich.
Patrick said much of the opposition to his offer appears to stem from the highly emotional national debate over immigration policy. Patrick, who is not running for a third term, insists politics did not factor into his decision.
Money is also an issue. Jerry Ellis, selectmen in Bourne on Cape Cod, claims the town is still owed $1 million by the federal government for expenses the town incurred while evacuees from Hurricane Katrina were sheltered at Camp Edwards nearly a decade ago.
Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos said it “makes no sense” to use an active air base to house children.
" I am basing that on talks with Westover personnel. There is a lack of available housing and security concerns for what is the largest Air Force Reserve base in the country and maintaining its operations and its mission," said Kos.
Several religious leaders, including Cardinal Sean O’Malley of the Archdiocese of Boston, have praised Patrick for his willingness to address what they see as a humanitarian emergency.
"I ask my faith community and the wider public to understand compassionately the extreme circumstances this children are facing. As a country, and as a church, we are capable of providing crucial assistnence."
Leaders of Boston’s minority communities held a news conference Monday to support Patrick’s plan. They spoke in front of a memorial to the 19th century immigrants who came to Boston to escape starvation in Ireland.