I-Team: Central American children already in Mass.

Nearly 800 children in the past two years

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) - After Governor Patrick proposed Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee as a potential site to shelter undocumented children, the Mayor and the community started to consider what it would mean for them. However, the 22News I-Team discovered you don’t have to go far to find the answer.

Federal officials say in the past two years, nearly 800 children from three Central American countries, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador traveled through Mexico, into America and are now living here in Massachusetts.

Lynn has seen 248 new students from Guatemala in the last two school years. New Bedford has added 228 students from Central America in the last two years. Chelsea has added 285 Central American students since July.

The I-Team went to Chelsea and spoke with their City Manager, Jay Ash. He said, “We have a different type of kid than the western part of the state or down in the cape are potentially going to see.  The kids that we’re seeing are being relocated here by the federal government, the kids we’re seeing have relatives that are going down to Arizona and bringing back with them to Massachusetts.”

Ash also said that they didn’t even realize these students were from Central America until this border crisis made national news. “We didn’t notice initially that we had an increase in population due to immigration, unaccompanied minors. We were searching for answers as to why we were seeing an increase in our population.”

Those communities noticed the uptick when more students enrolled in school who were older than they claimed and needed a lot of help getting caught up in the classroom, but kids that could come to Chicopee won’t necessarily end up in their schools.

Berkshire Immigrant Center’s Brooke Mead told the I-Team there are dozens of immigration groups working with the state to ensure if more children are brought to the state – it’s a smooth process. “They’re helping to kind of coordinate some of these efforts, again the volunteerism, the donations that are coming in, pediatricians, psychologists, people volunteered language skill, translation.”

She said the children will get legal representation and immediately be put through the deportation process and if some stay, they’ll be carefully placed in appropriate communities.

The I-Team also dug deeper to see how much Massachusetts taxpayers are paying to support some immigrants who are here right now. Not all can be traced because many support themselves.

  • The welfare department has 60,400 eligible, non-citizens receiving benefits.  Undocumented immigrants are not eligible to receive benefits, but a 2013 inspector general’s report estimated that $5.2 million was paid to undocumented immigrants.
  • Our Jail in Ludlow, just stopped holding potential detainees last week, while I-N-S reviewed their cases, but they estimated that they held about 100 immigrants a year for 2 extra days and it cost them about $23,178 a year that they were not reimbursed for.
  • The DACA program in the state, allows for immigrants who meet certain qualifications to receive in-state tuition at our state universities.  This program started in January 2013.  So far 5574 immigrants have had their applications approved.  The UMass admissions department doesn’t keep records of how many have enrolled, while Westfield State currently has two DACA eligible immigrants enrolled.
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