Immigrant shelter at Westover

CHICOPEE, Mass (WWLP) — Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee could become a makeshift shelter for hundreds of undocumented immigrant children who have crossed the southern U-S border. Keep in mind that these children are unaccompanied minors.

They traveled from Central America to find safety, and were willing to do so without their parents. They are escaping what Governor Patrick is calling a “humanitarian crisis” back in Central America.

Now, this possibility to keep the children here at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee would mean that about 1,000 children would stay here at the base for as long as four months, and their stay would be federally funded.  During their time here, they would be processed for deportation, reunification, or asylum under federal law.

It’s the possibility of having those children stay here in Chicopee that has made even the mayor against this proposal.

But, since this is only a proposal, the base can’t even start organizing and planning until the Department of Homeland Security officially notifies them. So far, there hasn’t been any word of that yet.

Because of this officials at Westover can’t even begin to prepare or organize for potentially sheltering all of those children.
Base representative Master Sargeant Biscoe says they’re not even sure they’d have enough resources to handle that many people.

“If it were to happen, it certainly would impact us. For us to speak beyond that I’d be speculating. We have a busy base here as it is with a population of 5,500 reservists who train here on weekends and during the week,” Master Sgt. Andrew Biscoe told 22News.

Master Sgt. Biscoe told 22News that because this is a federally owned installation, the government would have to come up with a plan and arrangements to make that work here.

Mayor Richard Kos said that Chicopee already houses enough homeless families, and the base does not have any room for these children.

“Westover should not be an option because it’s not an option.  It’s an operational air field without the logistics to house children and maintain its security without impacting its operation.  The proposal by the governor to use Westover does not work for those children, and it does not work for the city of Chicopee,” said Mayor Richard Kos.

These unaccompanied minors would not be attending local public schools. Instead, they would be monitored in a secured facility controlled by federal immigration officials.

22News talked to Congressman Richard Neal about the proposal to use this base as a temporary shelter for immigrant children, and he told 22News that this isn’t the best shelter.

Neal said he talked to the Chicopee and Springfield mayors and Westover officials. He told 22News that the housing complex on the base is used during the weekends,so there would be a problem sheltering these children on top of that.

Neal did admit that this is indeed a “humanitarian crisis” that needs be resolved,and the U.S. should be helping these children as they escape Central America. But he’s not sure how soon Congress will take action.

Congressman Richard Neal said, “Not to miss the point that these children ideally should be reunited with their parents in their home country but there’s a process that needs to take place before we get there.”

Neal told 22News that an immigration reform should have taken place a long time ago, but a comprehensive immigration reform is what they need now.

Stay with 22News throughout the rest of your day for more updates on this developing story.

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