By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE — After local officials on Cape Cod rejected his proposal to potentially use a military base to house immigrant children, Gov. Deval Patrick said Wednesday that opponents have not dealt with “the realities of the situation,” and said state residents as a whole “have hearts big enough” to allow the sheltering of children detained after illegally crossing the southern border.
Undersecretary for Homeland Security and Emergency Management Kurt Schwartz represented the governor at the Bourne Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday, and Patrick said his feedback of 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.
The Democrat and Republican running for the Senate seat that includes Joint Base Cape Cod are split on whether to support the governor’s plan to potentially house 1,000 immigrant children who illegally entered the country at the military installation.
“I think it’s an opportunity to show our compassion for children,” said Matt Patrick, a Falmouth Democrat and former state representative who is running for the seat currently held by Senate President Therese Murray. He said, “They have gone through a terrible ordeal.”
Rep. Vinny deMacedo, a Plymouth Republican, said he does not support the plan in its present form and wants answers about the duration of the children’s stay and the potential effect on the surrounding community.
“What exactly is the federal government asking? What is the time limit?” deMacedo asked the News Service. An immigrant himself who was born on Cape Verde, deMacedo said, “I think all of us are compassionate people . . . But we want to make sure we understand all of the things that are involved in this.”
Heather Mullins, a Libertarian candidate who has declared her candidacy for the seat, said she “can see both sides to the issue” and believes questions need to be answered before she can come down in favor or opposed to the proposal.
Murray, who is facing a term-limit as president and stepping down as head of the Senate after nearly eight years in January, has said the children’s current detention situation is “deplorable” and “I don’t see why I wouldn’t” support Gov. Patrick’s plan to potentially house children in federal custody at the base.
The Bourne Board of Selectmen voted unanimously Tuesday night to send a letter to the governor opposing the plan because they were concerned town public safety services would be taxed, Town Administrator Tom Guerino told the News Service. He said the governor had been in Mashpee the day before he announced his consideration of the Cape base and told officials then about his plans.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones plans to convene a summit on the “influx of immigration detainees” Thursday morning with Republican representatives, including two from Cape Cod, the sheriffs of Bristol and Plymouth counties and Lynn Mayor Judith Flanagan.
On Wednesday, Rep. Ryan Fattman attempted to pass a resolution opposing the housing of the immigrants, but it was sent to the Rules Committee after Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez objected.
Gov. Patrick is weighing whether to offer up Joint Base Cape Cod, also known as Camp Edwards, or Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee. Local officials in both areas have opposed Gov. Patrick’s plan, and both bases are part of districts where there are empty Senate seats and competitive elections.
The governor said the federal government only has asked for four months of usage, and said the detained children are “not to be brought into the school system, not to be brought into the neighborhoods.”
Saying he announced his consideration of the proposals earlier than usual, Gov. Patrick said there is no “present proposal” from Washington D.C. The governor said he has been informed the “influx” over the southern border “has begun to slow” and said housing the children is “something we and other states ought to be able to do on a temporary basis.”
The governor said he does not believe Bourne has any legal recourse to stop the plan.
Gov. Patrick has been adamant that his decision is not political, and deMacedo echoed that philosophy.
“This isn’t a political issue, and I’m not trying to make it a political issue,” deMacedo told the News Service. He said, “If people try to make it political, then I think that’s a shame.”
Matt Patrick told the News Service plans for the base “may” become an issue in the campaign, and suggested that many of the concerns that have been raised are the result of “misinformation.”
“People should step back and take an emotional inventory and determine what’s pulling their strings,” Matt Patrick said. “Try to avoid being manipulated. I think we have an opportunity to do a good thing.”
Children from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have fled the violence and poverty in their home countries, traveling north through Mexico, crossing the Rio Grande and seeking out U.S. officials with the hopes of entering federal custody, which has overwhelmed the infrastructure built to detain those who illegally enter the country, according to news reports.
The governor said the federal government, which operates the bases, would cover all the costs for housing the children, and Matt Patrick said Camp Edwards has its own fire protection and emergency services. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which has custody of the unaccompanied children, will place children with family members when possible.
“We need to hear a lot more in my opinion, in regards to what is the end-game here,” said deMacedo. He asked, “Is this to allow the 1,000 kids to come here and then ultimately filter them out through our school systems?”
Matt Patrick said the plans for the base are “temporary” and said even though the federal government leases the base, it is seeking memorandums of understanding, which signals its desire to be “accommodating.”
Mullins worried that Massachusetts officials could be “kept in the dark” about the conditions the children are in if the state volunteers to accept them, and said it would be important for the state to have open lines of communication to the children and to foreign consulates.
“There’s so many unanswered questions,” Mullins told the News Service. Questioning whether a military base is the best setting for children, Mullins said, “If they’re in Massachusetts, I feel Massachusetts bears some sort of responsibility over them.”
Saying “the federal government has dropped the ball” on securing the border, deMacedo noted that the governors of Maryland and Connecticut – both of whom are Democrats – declined the federal government’s request to house the immigrant children in their states.
Guerino said the selectmen were not assured the federal government would be able to follow through on covering all the costs, and said the town has an “excellent” relationship with the base. He said the majority of people who attended Tuesday night’s meeting were concerned about the plan while a minority, including people from religious organizations, advocated for caring for the children.
The town administrator said unlike Westover, which is owned by the federal government, Camp Edwards is owned by the state and leased. He said selectmen have asked to be included in any memorandum of agreement that the state negotiates.
Mike Deehan contributed reporting.