Bridgeport and New Haven Weigh Whether to House Migrant Children

Jul 22, 2014

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp in a file photo.
Credit Melissa Bailey / New Haven Independent

The mayors of Connecticut's cities will take part in a conference call this week to discuss whether their communities have space to host some of the children from Central America who have been flooding the U.S. border.

Harp said that if the other city mayors agree, Connecticut could have room for 800 to 1,000 of the young migrants.

New Haven Mayor Toni Harp and Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch are hosting the call on Friday. Harp said they will make the request to their counterparts in Hamden, Meriden, New Britain, East Hartford, Waterbury, Hartford, West Haven, Norwalk, and Stamford.

Harp said there are several possibilities in New Haven. "The Armory, which is now empty, [is an option]," she said. "There is also the old Gateway facility, and we've also been in discussions with some churches that have some extra space. The thought is there might also be some families who've worked with the probate court who may want to take in some children."

The former Gateway Community College property near Long Wharf is owned by the state. Harp said her staff will discuss with the state if some kids could be housed there. Harp also said the former juvenile detention facility on Whalley Avenue is another possibility, but both sites would need renovations.

Last week, Governor Malloy's administration said there were no state facilities large enough to house the children or safe for them without extensive renovations.

Harp said that if the other city mayors agree, Connecticut could have room for 800 to 1,000 of the young migrants. More than 55,000 have entered the U.S. illegally since last fall.

While other parts of the country are opposed to the children coming to their communities, Mayor Harp said her city isn't one of them. “These young people are here. It shouldn't be the border states that bear all of the burden, basically, of taking on everyone."

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch in a file photo.
Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR

Cities could get federal grants up to $100 million to care for the migrant children. City of Bridgeport spokesman, Brett Broesder said Mayor Bill Finch has spoken to local and federal government officials but no decisions  have been made yet. 

Community groups have protested the Malloy administration's decision to not open up vacant state properties like Southbury Training school. On Tuesday afternoon, the Community Immigrants Rights Alliance or CIRA will hold another rally at the former Gateway Community College site in New Haven to ask Governor Malloy to reconsider.

In a statement, CIRA said, "An overwhelming number of Connecticut churches and individuals have reached out to us expressing a desire to house and help these immigrants. In fact, some Connecticut groups already are assisting Guatemalan children, adolescents and women who have arrived in our state fleeing violence and have cases pending in immigration court. The Governor's decision is out of step with the Connecticut community."

On Tuesday, Malloy's spokesperson Andrew Doba said the Governor was on a conference call with the White House and Secretaries of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services and was told, "Substantial progress has been made to diminish the needs for housing children for extended periods in large scale institutional settings." Doba added the federal government has placed more than 320 children with relatives in Connecticut so far. He said, "The Governor has already directed state agencies to work with federal officials should any additional needs arise or should they make additional requests. That would include exploring the Gateway property which is owned and controlled by the Board of Regents system and is not a surplus state property."