By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- The debate over whether Massachusetts should provide temporary shelter to unaccompanied immigrant children crossing the border into the United States spilled onto the House floor Wednesday.
Rep. Ryan Fattman, a Republican from Sutton who is running for the state Senate, introduced a resolution that would have put the House on record on Gov. Deval Patrick's willingness to temporarily house up to 1,000 South American children who have fled their countries and illegally crossed the U.S. southern border.
Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, of Jamaica Plain, effectively blocked consideration of the resolution by the full House by objecting to the suspension of rules that would have allowed the resolution to proceed to a vote. Following his objection, House leaders referred the resolution to the Committee on Rules.
Patrick has offered to accept the children for up to four months on either the Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne or Westover Air Base in Chicopee.
The federal government has not yet responded to the offer, but some public officials in both Bourne and Chicopee have opposed the idea.
"The point of this resolution is to question Massachusetts's role in an immigration crisis and problem and to politely say no thank you," Fattman said during remarks on the floor.
Fattman said the plight of many of the children escaping their countries "breaks all of our hearts," but he questioned whether bringing those children to Massachusetts would create unforeseen, long-term problems, taking resources away from other problems such as improving the Department of Children and Families.
Patrick has said the federal government will bear full responsibility and cover all costs associated with the children.
A Boston Globe poll released Wednesday showed that 50 percent of residents support Patrick's plan compared to 43 percent opposed, within the 4.9 percent margin of error.
Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz and Public Safety Secretary Andrea Cabral held a closed door briefing for lawmakers and staff on Wednesday, and Polanowicz plans to attend House Minority Leader Brad Jones's summit on Thursday with legislators, sheriffs and local leaders to discuss the state's involvement with immigrant detainees being houses in Bay State facilities.
Undersecretary for Homeland Security and Emergency Management Kurt Schwartz represented the governor at the Bourne Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday, where officials opposed the governor's plan. Patrick said Schwartz' feedback on the commentary was that it was "coarse" and "unhelpful."
"He was left with the impression that folks weren't all that interested in the facts. There were comments about things like, 'We don't want these people in our neighborhood,' 'We moved to the Cape in order to be away from people like this,' and things that are very coarse, and I think unhelpful, and frankly don't deal with the realities of the situation," Patrick told reporters Wednesday.
Andy Metzger contributed reporting.