By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- Non-resident children who are being detained along the border after crossing into the United States from Central America will not be coming to Massachusetts as a temporary home.
After all the emotional pleas from Gov. Deval Patrick for compassion from his state and rallies from political opponents who were both distrustful of the federal government and opposed to seeing the state take the risk of bringing an influx of illegal immigrants to Massachusetts, the Obama administration notified state officials Tuesday of its decision to discontinue the use of military bases as temporary shelters for unaccompanied minors detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"I have been deeply moved by the outpouring of support we have seen from across the Commonwealth, as over 1,600 of our neighbors reached out to express their support for children who are alone and thousands of miles from home. Once again the people of Massachusetts have displayed great generosity and compassion. It appears that there is not a need for Massachusetts to serve these children at this time, but I am proud of our willingness to do so," Patrick said in a statement.
Patrick, responding to a request from the federal government, offered on July 18 to shelter up to 1,000 kids for four months on a Bay State military base while the federal government figured out how to handle the immigration statuses of tens of thousands of minors who crossed the southern border from counties like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
Though the administration said the federal government would pay for and operate the shelter, local officials in Bourne, Chicopee and elsewhere worried about the long-term impact of bringing the children to Massachusetts and some questioned whether they would eventually be released into the community, putting a burden on schools and other public services.
Patrick made appearances on national television explaining his decision and harkened back to a moment in history that he described as a when the United States turned its back on Jewish children arriving by boat to escape Nazi Germany, only to be returned.
The decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to discontinue the use of military bases in states like Oklahoma, Texas and California as temporary shelters to deal with overflow was first reported Monday evening by POLITICO.
The Department of Health and Human Services notified the Patrick administration on Tuesday that beginning in July the number of unaccompanied children apprehended and in custody has fallen, while the number of children released to "appropriate sponsors" as their immigration cases proceed through the courts has increased. HHS has also expanded capacity to care for these children in standard shelters, which are less costly than temporary shelters.
While federal officials say the immigration situation remains fluid, HHS is no longer seeking new temporary shelters, though they said the three current temporary shelters could be reopened for a limited time if there is another influx of children.
"The number of unaccompanied children crossing the border is still too high and thousands of children are still in HHS custody. We will continue to monitor the situation closely in order to make the best decisions about the resources available to take care of the children," wrote Emily Barson, principal deputy director in the Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Jesse Mermell, a spokeswoman for Patrick, said that should a future need for temporary shelter space arise, "The Patrick Administration stands ready to continue conversations with the federal government about how the Commonwealth may assist these children."
The Patrick administration said it planned to reach out to the people who have contacted the governor's office looking for opportunities to volunteer and provide them with contact information about organizations that help immigrant children.
Immigrants, faith organizations, civil rights groups, human rights advocates, labor officials and elected politicians recently announced plans to march from Copley Square to the State House on Thursday for a rally to support the governor's offer to temporarily house some children at Joint Base Cape Cod or Westover Air Base in Chicopee.