Joint Base Cape Cod could become a temporary home for hundreds of migrant children in custody after attempting to cross the US-Mexico border. It’s not the first time the military facility has found itself at the center of a large-scale effort to provide makeshift housing for people fleeing crisis.
In the days after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, then-Governor Mitt Romney announced that as many as 2,500 evacuees from the Gulf Coast would come to the Cape as part of a massive relief effort. They were to stay at Camp Edwards, which is part of the joint base.
Like the proposal announced today by Governor Deval Patrick, Romney’s announcement came with many questions. How much would it cost? Just how many people would come, and how long would they stay?
There were public safety questions then, too, as some of the people came to Massachusetts before being screened. Seven of the evacuees turned out to have prior convictions for sex offenses, though officials would say the concern was overblown.
“We’ve got 30 sex offenders in the town of Bourne,” Bourne Police Sergeant Christopher Farrell said at the time. “Nobody is worked up about those people.”
Many in Bourne were eager to help those affected by the hurricane, as volunteers lined up to help and school systems scrambled to find enough seats for all the new students.
In the end, fewer people came to the facility than originally expected. By late September 2005, there were 195 evacuees at Camp Edwards. Another 482 had registered for benefits while living elsewhere in Massachusetts. By that November, there were more than 800 evacuees in the state.
It’s not clear whether the migrant children will actually be sent to Joint Base Cape Cod. The site remains under federal review, along with Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee. Patrick has said they would stay about four months. During that time, Congress will continue to debate whether they’ll be able to stay in the United States — and if so, how they’ll live.
Katrina evacuees who stayed at the military facility on the Cape were there for 47 days, a time in which both the community and newcomers experienced a range of emotions. Globe reporter Sally Jacobs captured the atmosphere in an article published November 7, 2005.
“The first few weeks after the evacuees arrived Sept. 8 were bathed in a kind of exhausted exuberance. Then, as residents were pressed to make decisions about where to move and whether to work the mood grew prickly and living conditions began to chafe. By mid-October, the tone had shifted again. Most felt ready to go.”
But some wanted to stay. Interviewed by Globe reporter Cristina Silva for a Nov. 19 story, Patrick Wooten described how his family had accepted the offer of a house in Plymouth and he had taken a temporary job.
“This is the other side of the rainbow and the other side of heaven,” Wooten said. “The love you all showed, this is the love you all are still showing now.”
Joint Base Cape Cod grew out of a military campsite set aside in 1935 to provide space for training operations that would not fit at what was then called Camp Devens in Central Massachusetts. Joint Base Cape Cod includes Camp Edwards, as well as a US Coast Guard air station, and the Massachusetts National Guard Regional Training Institute.
President Obama has also used the base to fly in for his vacations on Martha’s Vineyard.