BOSTON, (State House News Service) – Emotions continue to run high over Gov. Deval Patrick’s offer to temporarily house children who illegally crossed the border into the U.S., but Massachusetts is no closer to getting an answer from the Obama administration on whether the federal government plans to take the state up on its offer.
“We don’t have very much information about when, if at all, there will be a shelter for the kids here,” Patrick told reporters on Monday.
At times spilling into Beacon Street, hundreds attended a “Stop the Invasion Rally” over the weekend at the State House against Patrick’s plan to temporarily house up to 1,000 unaccompanied children who have crossed the border from Central America and have been detained awaiting immigration processing.
“Our government sees no difference between law-abiding, freedom-loving, taxpaying citizens and law-breaking aliens,” said Mark Fisher, the Tea Party Republican running against Charlie Baker for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
Fisher attended the rally on Saturday, hosted by conservative WRKO talk radio host Jeff Kuhner, along with Reps. Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman), Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica), Shaunna O’Connell (R-Taunton) and Leah Cole (R-Peabody).
“We are told by our elected officials that it is the moral thing to do to stand down, not uphold the law and allow law-breaking illegal immigrants into this country. They have it upside down,” the Shrewsbury Republican said.
But supporters of the plan, like Senate President Therese Murray, have not backed down. During a radio interview last Thursday, Murray said she asked her staff to pull old cartoons from Boston newspapers during the time of high Irish immigration to Massachusetts.
“Some of the same things that were being said about the Irish coming here, about disease and murderers and we don’t want these kinds of people here and we shouldn’t be breeding them are the same horrible things that are being said about these children, and that’s what they are. They’re children,” Murray told WATD-FM.
Murray said the number of children coming across the border has slowed as a result of increased border security, raising questions about whether the federal government will even need to transport children to Massachusetts.
“This may not even happen. We don’t even know if this is a possibility. The governor has just stepped out to the federal government and said if you need to we can take these kids for 35 to 45 days,” Murray said.
A host of steps must still be taken by the federal government before any final decisions are made on whether to house migrant children in Massachusetts, including on-site visits by the Department of Defense to determine the suitability of either Joint Base Cape Cod or Westover Air Base in Chicopee. A final determination is also likely to be contingent on Congress approving the president’s request for additional funding to deal with the border
“People have a point of view. Actually some of the protests, much of what has been reported anyways, is about immigration reform and not the separate question about what it is we do to shelter kids 17 to three years old, who are here alone, and I tried to make that distinction,” Patrick told reporters Monday.
Patrick said he understands the concerns expressed by local officials in Bourne and Chicopee, but stated that comments received by his office “are running something like two- or three-to-one in favor and that, to me, reflects what I understood about the sensibility and the compassion of the people of the Commonwealth.”
“All local officials have been briefed, but I think a lot of local officials are worrying and some of that understandably, about what the impact will be on their local communities when there is none – none,” Patrick said.
Rep. Diehl called on attendees at the Saturday rally to “vote out the people that won’t stand by you, the taxpayer.”
“The federal government now is intruding on our rights by allowing illegal immigrants to stay in our state when we already can’t afford to handle what we’ve got,” Diehl said at the rally.
Rep. Cole called it “wonderful” to see what she described as the “silent majority” speaking out against the governor’s plan.
“Our governor is trying to peddle this off as a crisis, and if you ask me the real crisis is that our veterans are going without, our families, our American families, are living in motels and out on the streets because we don’t have enough resources as it is to take care of the people that we actually have an obligation to,” Cole said.
A Boston Globe poll released last Wednesday showed 50 percent of residents support Patrick’s plan compared to 43 percent opposed, within the 4.9 percent margin of error.
Last week in an appearance on MSNBC, Patrick expressed support for broader immigration reform, but stressed that he has not proposed integrating immigrant children into Massachusetts society. Without invoking the same influx of Irish to Boston that Murray referenced, Patrick also noted historical parallels to the debate.
“It’s not the first time in American history that newcomers have been talked about in terms like that and every time over the course of a century and a half or so of fairly regular immigration, and some of that in waves, we’ve had to endure all of that until we got to our higher and better selves and we’ve been stronger as a nation as we’ve done so,” Patrick told MSNBC host Chris Hayes.
Rep. Lombardo harshly criticized the governor’s ability to care for children from Massachusetts, while Rep. O’Connell ticked off statements made by the governor about the duration and cost of the shelter plan that she considers to be lies.
“Gov. Patrick says that this is a humanitarian crisis and that’s why he must act. Well for 16 months we watched how this governor treated Justina Pelletier. Gov. Patrick, you are no humanitarian,” Lombardo shouted to the crowd outside the State House Saturday, a reference to the girl who was recently returned to her parents’ custody after a struggle through the courts. “Gov. Patrick wants to lecture us on compassion. Where was his compassion when DCF was in shambles and American children were dying almost weekly under the custody of state government?”
O’Connell predicted that it would be more likely for immigrant children brought to Massachusetts to remain here for four years rather than the four months promised by the federal government, claiming that 90 percent would be processed and released into the community to “whomever picks them up, no questions asked.”
“And it’s the policy of the Obama administration not to ask the legal status of anyone who picks up an unaccompanied minor. And guess who picks up illegals. Illegals. And once an illegal is a guardian of an unaccompanied minor they cannot be deported. It is backdoor amnesty,” O’Connell said.
Patrick said on MSNBC that the immigration policy followed by the Obama administration for dealing with unaccompanied minors was signed into law by George W. Bush.