Detaining illegal immigrants on Cape Cod is a bad idea

State Rep Randy Hunt on the offer to house migrant children at Joint Base Cape Cod

By Randy Hunt, State Representative, 5th Barnstable District

The first communication I got from Governor Deval Patrick’s office was Friday morning, July 18, 2014, to let me know that the governor would be holding a press conference to announce his plea to the Obama administration to send illegal immigrant minors to Massachusetts.

Situation Evolving

On Tuesday, July 15th, in response to criticism from gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker about seven planeloads of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees being flown into the state, the governor feigned helplessness over the situation saying the contracts between the sheriffs housing these people and ICE were independent from his office. The governor is the chief public safety officer of the commonwealth and, without question, has the authority to review and interrupt this stream of illegal immigrants arriving in Massachusetts. But that would have created an awkward situation for his next announcement.

On Wednesday, Patrick said he was weighing a request by the Obama administration to shelter some of the unaccompanied minor children illegally crossing the Texas/Mexico border. He said the request had come in a week or so prior. He downplayed the situation, not indicating that a decision was imminent but did indicate that Joint Base Cape Cod was being considered. Julie Chen, of WHDH TV in Boston, reported that 1,000 illegal immigrant minors might be shipped here.

On Thursday, I posted an article related to Massachusetts Senate Bill 1414 which would give illegal immigrants special status by considering them to be minors up to age 21. In that piece, I noted that the governor had agreed to take at least 1,000 unaccompanied minors who were ICE detainees and that action could pose problems for the surrounding communities in spite of his claim that the Federal government would be picking up the tab. The governor visited the Cape that day and in response to Fox 25′s Sharman Sacchetti reading my conjecture in the form of a question, Patrick deflected the question by saying he didn’t know Randy Hunt and dismissing my information as inaccurate. He said that, at most, only a few hundred children would be sent to Massachusetts and that the average time required to review their cases would be four or five days.

On Friday, the governor held a press conference to announce that he submitted an application to the Obama administration offering either Westover Air Base in Chicopee or Joint Base Cape Cod to house up to 1,000 unaccompanied minors for an average of 35 days each. All of a sudden the facts seemed to be swinging in my direction.

Why JBCC is not suited for detaining illegal immigrants

There are several reasons why Joint Base Cape Cod is unsuited for housing ICE detainees:

  1. The precedent being thrown around is that we’ve done it before when close to 300 refugees of Hurricane Katrina were sheltered at the base in 2005. There is a huge difference between housing refugees versus housing detainees. I remember Katrina victims working at the grocery stores while awaiting being able to head back home to Louisiana. These unaccompanied minors are under arrest and require a secure facility for housing.
  2. The housing being proposed is the shelter of last resort for our own residents in a disaster situation. Patrick says the facilities will only be needed for four months, but that happens to coincide with hurricane season. That was a concern in 2005 when Hurricane Ophelia was bearing down on Cape Cod and emergency planners realized that they had several hundred fewer beds available because of the Katrina refugees. Fortunately, Ophelia veered east and did not require a major sheltering operation.
  3. JBCC is extremely busy during the summers with National Guard troop training. These citizen soldiers are housed at the base and should not be displaced by the detainees or risk interruption of their military exercises by an escaped juvenile.

What’s likely to happen with this sheltering program

“Temporary” and “only four months” remind me of broken promises of the past. And why would we believe this? There is no indication that the 90,000 per year rate of unaccompanied minors crossing the border is likely to plummet anytime soon. That being the case, the likelihood of a four-month program is on par with those toll booths on the turnpike coming down in this year.

Judges are overwhelmed with this immigration crisis. According to Trac Immigration (http://trac.syr.edu/phptools/immigration/court_backlog/), the national waiting time for an immigration hearing for cases not involving other crimes, national security issues, or terrorism is 589 days. How is it that we are to accept that these unaccompanied minors will be adjudicated in 35 days? And what pressure would there be to expedite these cases when they are no longer housed in wholly inadequate detention warehouses at the border? Out of sight, out of mind they say.

The pressure that will mount will be to get these desperate children out of their confinement on Joint Base Cape Cod and to assimilate them into the surrounding communities. Will the Federal government (by the way, which is funded by all of us) continue to pick up the tab for their education? Medical? Ask the mayor of Lynn how that’s going. She’s inundated with Guatemalans who have landed in her city and who are eating her budget alive.

What needs to be done to stop this immigration crisis

El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are countries in a terrible economic mess, entrenched with corrupt public officials, and overrun by organized crime and street gangs. Not places I’d like to live but the answer to the problems in these countries cannot be to send their entire next generation to the United States. The problems need to be solved on the ground in those countries.

The President needs to lead on this issue instead of pointing fingers at Congress for not passing “comprehensive immigration reform.” We don’t need to change our immigration laws, which are being broken by these tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors, to resolve the underlying issues. Safe and secure facilities need to be erected in the countries that are the source of these children. I would support the U.S. government funding part of this for it would be far cheaper than dealing with what’s happening now.

If there is a legitimate reason to flee one’s home country, then that person can apply at the U.S. embassy or any other country’s embassy to request political asylum or refugee status. That, however, needs to happen in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras–not here. Until we shut off the spigot at the source, we should not expect the flow of illegal immigrants to wane.

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