Patrick Offers Sanctuary To Undocumented Immigrant Children
BOSTON/State House - Answering a call from the federal government to help Central and South American children fleeing violence and depressed economic conditions in their home countries, Governor Deval Patrick on Friday offered temporary sanctuary to some of the unaccompanied immigrant children who have crossed the border between Mexico and the U.S. in recent weeks and are now stranded in southern Texas.
With leaders from four major religions standing behind him, the Governor said he has proposed two shelter locations for consideration by the federal Department of Health and Human Services - Camp Edwards at Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne and Westover Air Reserve base in Chicopee. Ten days ago, said Patrick, the regional office of HHS asked if there were sites in Massachusetts with a minimum of 90,000 square feet where upwards of 1,000 children could be held for up to four months for immigration processing. The average stay for an undocumented child being processed by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the governor - possibilities include deportation, asylum in some cases, or reuinfication with family members already living in the U.S. - is 35 days. If HHS finds one of the offered locations suitable for detaining children, the cost of maintaining such a shelter, added Patrick, would be borne entirely by the federal government.
It is not known whether the Health and Human Services Department will accept either location as a temporary and secure shelter. Congress, which has battled the Obama adminstration over immigration for years, needs to appropriate funds for this shelter operation. Patrick mused that ordinarily he would have waited until more details were available before holding a press conference. But interest - both positive and negative - in helping the federal government and these children since he expressed some willingness a few days ago, motivated him to make this anouncement sooner rather than later.
Patrick urged Massachusetts residents to remember that the state has a responsibility to offer sanctuary, in part, because these are children. "While the reason for the surge in these new arrivals still need to be understood and addressed and the debate over immigration reform continues, it bears remembering that these are children alone in a foreigh land." They will need age-appropriate toys and books and the supervision of responsible adults, especially those who speak Spanish, said Patrick.
In perhaps one of his most emotional public statements since becoming governor, Patrick said his reasons for making this offer included his "love of country" and "lessons of faith." He invoked several historical examples of the nation helping foreign children in need. With his religious beliefs in mind, he said, "I believe we may one day have to answer for our actions, or inaction."
OMB Audio: MA Governor Deval Patrick on "love of country" and "lessons of faith." (1:51)
Debate over immigration and proposed reform that would create a path to citizenship for millions of people already living and working in the U.S. includes the idea that helping American citizens and documented immigrants first always is more important than helping foreign nationals. In answer to this argument, Bishop John Borders of the Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan said, "human instinct is to help people in need...there will always be resources to do good."
Eva Millona, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Alliance Coalition told reporters, "...we do understand that we have many needs, and there are people here who need a lot of help, and we totally understand that, but this situation it's about imminent death... This is about help to support children who are running for their lives so there's a huge difference here. And I think we have the resources if the willingness is there to do it."