Massachusetts will not be needed to shelter immigrant children who have come unaccompanied across the nation’s southern border. An announcement by federal officials late Tuesday ended a two-week controversy that embroiled Massachusetts in the national debate over immigration reform.
The U.S Department of Health and Human Services informed the Patrick administration that because fewer children have been apprehended crossing the border over the last month and because there is more room now at existing shelters in other states, Massachusetts will not be needed as a temporary home for up to 1,000 children.
Responding to an early request from the Obama administration, Gov. Deval Patrick suggested Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and Camp Edwards on Cape Cod as possible locations for the shelters. Patrick was moved to tears at a July 18th news conference when he announced the decision, which he said was based on civic duty and religious beliefs.
" I believe we will one day have to answer for our actions, and our in-actions," Patrick said as his voice choked.
In a statement released Tuesday night, Patrick said he was deeply moved by the outpouring of support for his offer. Patrick, who last week said calls and emails to his office were running three-to-one in support of his decision, said in the statement “It appears there is not a need for Massachusetts to serve these children at this time, but I am proud of our willingness to do so.”
Local officials in Chicopee and on Cape Cod had voiced alarm about Patrick’s plan. Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos said he was pleased with the federal government’s announcement.
" Right from the start we said Westover did not make sense. They don't have the housing and security issues are paramount."
Republican State Senator Don Humason faulted Patrick for not consulting with local officials in advance before suggesting the possible shelter sites to the federal government.
" I don't think anybody likes to be told ' this is what is going to happen.' It certainly got our backs up and folks rallied against it. We would much rather be considered partners whether it is the state ( legislative) delegation or the city and the mayor's office."
Congressman Richard Neal, who had questioned the wisdom of housing the immigrant children at Westover, issued a statement applauding the Obama administration’s decision. The Democrat said “We should now take this opportunity to come together in a bipartisan manner to fix our broken immigration system.”
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren said Patrick had responded appropriately to the humanitarian crisis on the country’s southern border. She also called for action in Congress on immigration reform.
" The Senate passed an immigration bill. It is the House of Representatives that refuses to vote on an immigration bill because the Republican leadership is doing everything it can to block meaningful immigration reform. It is causing one problem after another in this country and it is fundamentally wrong."
Opponents of Patrick’s plan had scheduled a protest for this Sunday at a highway rotary in Chicopee near the entrance to Westover. About 100 people rallied there on July 27th. A protest over the governor’s plan at the State House attracted about 1,000 demonstrators.