By Matt Patrick, candidate for State Senate
It seems as if many of the recent comments regarding the proposal to bring immigrant children to Massachusetts bases are misleading in their assumptions. The Governor answered our questions based on Homeland Security information, but that is not good enough for opponents, even though everyone seems to agree that we ought not to make this a political issue. It seems obvious that these people would rather question the honesty of the Governor, the Senate President and anyone from the Federal government to create doubt in the minds of people who are honestly looking for answers to very important questions.
I took the time to speak with the Governor’s office and with representatives from Health and Human Services. As a result of those interactions, I am impressed with the State’s willingness to talk and provide answers to what I agree are very important questions; the dialogue with these hardworking people has helped me draw conclusions based on facts rather than rhetoric. My conclusions are that, provided this does not cause harm to our local communities or cost the Commonwealth any money, we absolutely should extend our hands to help those in need during a traumatic time in their lives. In most cases, it probably won’t get any better for a while. Why should we do this? Because we can. I have assurances from the administration that the towns will be included in the negotiations for the memorandum of understanding (MOU).
Let’s examine the most frequently listed reasons for opposing the plan. First, it has been implied that the decision has already been made by the Governor to bring the children here to Massachusetts, but that is simply not the case. According to Homeland Security and the Governor, the bases must be evaluated for their suitability by Health and Human Services. If the bases are determined to be suitable, then and only then would the Department of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security enter into negotiations with the Commonwealth and nearby towns to work out the details of a memorandum of understanding (MOU). The Towns will be at the table to discuss their concerns and get assurances written into the MOU at these meetings.
We are also told to believe that either Westover or Otis are the only destinations in the Nation for the 57,000 immigrant children that have come into our country. Again, this is not the case. There are at least four other states: Arizona, California, Texas and Oklahoma that are already taking many more of the immigrant children. In the Boston Globe (7/29/14), Mayor Jon Sharkey of Port Hueneme, California, one of the host cities for a temporary processing center said, “It’s been virtually invisible to us. It’s had no impact.”
One elected official says that we can expect more than 1,000 children at the site. Even if more than 1,000 children cycle through there what difference does it make? There are still only 1,000 beds available at a time meaning that no more than 1,000 children could occupy the base during any given period. The entire effort will be paid for by the Federal Government, another fact that several elected officials repeatedly ignore.
Opponents say that after being processed, 80% of the children will be placed with host families or friends and the other 20% will be put in foster care. As it turns out, the 80% placed with family and friends could be anywhere in the United States, not just in Massachusetts. Having one of these temporary processing sites does not make it any more likely that the children will remain in Massachusetts. The July 28th Globe article cites Julie Flanders, an immigration lawyer from Texas, as saying, “That’s not going to make them stay there.” Massachusetts gets about 3% of all the immigrant children who are placed with families or friends, regardless of where in the states they were processed.
It has been suggested that the remaining children will most likely be placed in foster care within Massachusetts and become a burden on local medical, educational and ancillary costs involved with keeping them rather than staying on the Federal dime. Again, this is wrong. There is only one foster home in the Commonwealth with 20 beds where the children could be located and it is funded by the Federal Government. The Federal Government also has funding for the 3% of immigrant children that are living with family or friends that may attend local schools.
Clearly, these folks have decided not to recognize any information provided by the Federal Government or the Governor as truthful and instead they have chosen to distort and discredit that information.
It’s easy to pick and choose bits of information that make it sound less like we are turning away helpless children and more like we are protecting our communities from new demands on our tax base. It’s easy to look the other way and pretend those kids will be fine and hope that someone else will be there to give shelter and mercy to them. The law signed by President Bush entitles these children to be treated properly while they await their disposition in court. At the end of the day, it’s easy to fail at upholding the long tradition we have here in Massachusetts as people who care about others regardless of who they are. However, once they understand the facts, I believe that the citizens of Massachusetts will agree that providing housing on our military bases is the least we can do for these children.
Matt Patrick is the former five term State Representative from Falmouth who is seeking the Plymouth and Barnstable Senate seat being vacated by Senate President Terry Murray.