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Chicopee City Council president skeptical of Patrick plan on migrant children

Local officials in Chicopee were skeptical today of a state plan under which immigrant children who have crossed the US-Mexico border could be housed at Westover Air Reserve Base in that Western Massachusetts city. But in Bourne, where Joint Base Cape Cod is another possible site for housing the children, the town administrator struck a more welcoming note.

Chicopee Mayor Richard J. Kos spoke out against Patrick’s proposal at an afternoon press conference. He said the city “is sensitive and concerned about the humanitarian issues” with the migrants, but housing them at the local air base “makes no sense.”

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“Westover should not be an option because it’s not an option,” he said. “It’s an operational airfield without the logistics to house children and maintain its security without impeding its operations.”

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George R. Moreau, president of Chicopee’s City Council, said he and his colleagues would have to look into how an influx of migrants might affect social services in the city, including the police, fire, and school departments.

“There is nothing to say that once these kids are housed there, they can’t leave there and come into the cities and towns,” Moreau said. “They’re not going to be held there by barbed wire.”

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The city council president said he was skeptical of federal backing for the move.

“I have mistrust about the federal government handling anything,” Moreau said.

U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sergeant Kelly Goonan

Westover Air Reserve Base

Under Patrick’s plan, the facility would be expected to house the children for four months, with each child staying an average of 35 days. The children would be secured and educated on the site.

A Westover spokeswoman also said the base couldn’t handle the children.

“We do not have the facilities or personnel to house the children,” said Staff Sergeant Kelly Goonan. The base houses several branches of the military on weekends, Goonan said, filling the limited housing the base does have. Westover no longer has educational facilities on the base, either.

“When we were inactivated … they gave those on-base [educational] facilities to the community,” Goonan said. “The education thing wouldn’t be a great avenue for us to take.”

Meanwhile, in Bourne, Town Administrator Thomas M. Guerino said he had mixed feelings about hosting the children.

He said that he, like some of the residents he had spoken to, questioned why Massachusetts, a state over 1,000 miles from the border, needed to get involved in holding illegal immigrants.

At the same time, he said, he felt a “humanitarian” duty to help the children.

The Patrick administration had assured him that the federal government would foot the bill for all costs, and that the children would remain on the base and not venture into the surrounding community, including for school, he said.

Guerino said that, according to a document sent by the state to his office this morning, only one of the two sites in Massachusetts will be selected. He said Bourne officials haven’t been told when the decision will be made.

“It’s wait and see right now,” Guerino said.

Many in Bourne still remember hosting people at the base who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he said.

Residents donated so many things to the people staying at the base that some items had to be sent out of state for other causes. Guerino said he wouldn’t be surprised if residents stepped up to help immigrant children, as well.

The sprawling base, which includes miles of woods, is in a sparsely populated area just over the Cape Cod Canal, though restaurants and stores sit along nearby roads taken by out-of-towners to more popular destinations on the Cape.

In interviews with the Globe, people who live or work in the town of Bourne offered sharply different opinions.

Julia Ross-Golen, who works in a gardening store close to the base, said the children should be sent back to their country rather than brought here.

“We will do anything for illegals, and we won’t do anything for Americans,” she said. “I don’t have sympathy for people breaking the law.”

Her friend, Maureen Casey, a nurse who said she had worked in conflict zones in Africa and the Middle East, said she agreed with Ross-Golen and thought the federal government needed to take better care of its own citizens.

Paige Roderiques, a secretary who lives in Bourne and works near the base, said she felt the Commonwealth made the right choice in offering the base.

“They’re coming to America to live a better life,” she said of the children.

Paul Sullivan, a pscyhotherapist in Bourne who said he’s worked with immigrant children suffering from trauma, said that while he understood why other local residents might push back, he saw the base as an underused resource that could be used to ease the children’s plight.

“Not our business, not our responsibility,” he said. “But sometimes, we need to be good human beings.”

More coverage:

Patrick wants Mass. to host immigrant children

Children trying to sneak into US aren’t always alone

Migrant children traveling alone strain makeshift Ariz. shelter

Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Kiera Blessing can be reached at kiera.blessing@globe.com
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