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AG candidates stake out ground in debate over migrant children


By Andy Metzger


STATE HOUSE — The two Democratic candidates for attorney general have embraced Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to consider housing immigrant children in federal custody at military bases in Bourne or Chicopee, while the Republican seeking the top law enforcement office needs more information before making a decision.

Republican John Miller this week knocked his two Democratic rivals and Attorney General Martha Coakley for not attending a municipal meeting in Bourne Tuesday, where opponents of the plan aired their concerns and the selectmen unanimously agreed on sending a letter of opposition to the governor.

“Last night in Bourne, I heard from dozens of concerned citizens regarding the proposal to have migrant children housed in Bourne while DHS process their paperwork,” Miller said in a statement Wednesday. “Unfortunately neither Martha Coakley nor the Democrats seeking to replace her were in attendance.”

Maura Healey, who worked under Coakley, and Tolman, a former state senator and gubernatorial candidate, have both said they support Patrick’s idea, which the governor said would be a four-month operation completely covered by the federal government.

Children mainly journeying from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala have entered the country illegally, unaccompanied by guardians and in great numbers, overwhelming the federal government’s ability to hold them in custody and leading Patrick to offer up Westover Air Reserve Base and Joint Base Cape Cod as potential temporary sites.

“This is a humanitarian crisis. Many of these children should be in nursery school and have nowhere to go,” said Healey in a statement, saying she is “proud” to support Patrick’s proposal and calling it “the moral thing to do.”

“Once again, Massachusetts is setting an example for the nation by working with the federal government to find safe and secure shelter for these children who are alone and in danger rather than turning our backs on them,” said Tolman in a statement that also described the situation as a “humanitarian crisis.”

Congressman Stephen Lynch, a South Boston Democrat, said so-called coyotes who ferry people across the border illegally for thousands of dollars apiece are selling Central Americans a “bill of goods.”

“The US immigration policy is being misrepresented,” Lynch told the News Service earlier this week, after returning from a fact-finding mission to Central America. He said young children and more girls are enlisting coyotes to take them on days-long journeys where “some of them never make it. Some of them are abandoned.” He said, “If you make what the coyotes are saying true, that’s a problem.”

>>>For a video of Congressman Lynch’s remarks got to: <<<<<

Lynch said he supports Patrick’s plan but believes it will be more involved than advertised.

“We’ve got to be good neighbors here and do the right thing. However, I think we should go in with our eyes open. I don’t think this will be a four-month operation,” said Lynch, who said victims of human trafficking are required to received education and health care.

Lynch said illegal immigration has become a major industry and the coyotes exploit perceptions of American immigration policy, which he said is too confusing.

“These coyotes are saying, ‘If your child gets there, they can stay. That is U.S. policy.’ This is encouraging the coyotes. It sends the wrong signal,” Lynch told the Boston Herald. He said, “The coyotes are saying to them, ‘You will not be deported. You will be better off being illegal in the United States if immigration reform does happen. You will be at the front of the line.’ They are very smart.”

Many children reportedly travel to the U.S. with the hope of being granted refugee status. When possible, the federal government sends the detained children to stay with relatives while their cases are processed.

Miller, who has not come down for or against Patrick’s proposal, developed a three-point “Massachusetts Safe” plan that calls for an expanded role for sheriffs to monitor children who might be sent here, reimbursements from the federal government to cities and towns, and a Massachusetts fact-finding team dispatched to the border. The team, according to Miller, would “obtain factual information regarding the medical and safety situation of individuals that the DHS plans to send to Massachusetts.”

“John’s 36 years in the private sector taught him not to agree to proposals without knowing what you’re agreeing to,” Miller spokesman Rick Gorka told the News Service in a statement. “Until the facts are known, a reasoned decision cannot be made.”