Text of Governor Patrick’s statement on the housing of unaccompanied minors crossing the US border.
More than 50 thousand children are stranded on the southern border of the United States. They range in age from 17 to 3 years old. They are alone; no parents have traveled with them. They have journeyed thousands of miles, from some of the most dangerous places on earth, sent by their parents to safety away from a humanitarian crisis at home. Because the facilities to shelter these children are overwhelmed, their arrival at our border presents a humanitarian crisis here.
A few weeks ago, the Regional Office of HHS asked us (and several other states) whether we could and would temporarily shelter some of these children while they are processed under our law for deportation or for reuniting with their families in the States. The request was for up 90,000 square feet of space to use for up to 4 months to accommodate up to 1,000 stranded children. The types of facilities sought by HHS and FEMA ranged from military bases to unused shopping malls.
The facility will be under federal -- not state -- control, but I can give you some details. The facility would be secure. It would have spaces for children to sleep, eat, play and go to school. The average stay for children sheltered there would be 35 days, during which they will be processed as described. All expenses will be borne by the federal government.
In response to the federal request, we have proposed two locations to shelter the children: Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne and Westover Air Base in Chicopee. The process from here, led by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is for federal authorities to vet the locations for suitability, choose which, if any, to deploy, make any necessary improvements, and staff the facility with all appropriate personnel. I don’t know how long that process will take or to what extent it depends on funding being appropriated by Congress in accordance with the President’s recent request.
We have received several questions and inquiries since my comments about this the other day. We have a written Q&A available to reporters. It has been shared with members of the Legislature and our Congressional delegation, and will be available to members of the public on the mass.gov website. Normally, I would wait until we had all the details before hosting a media avail of this kind, but since there is so much interest and some confusion, I thought we would offer you what information we have so far and address those questions we can.
Before I take your questions, let me add a couple of other thoughts.
Although this temporary shelter -- should there ultimately be one in Massachusetts -- will be under exclusive federal control and responsibility, we have received many, many expressions of support for the children and requests for ways to help. While the reasons for this surge of new arrivals still need to be understood and addressed, and the debate over immigration reform continues, it bears remembering that these are children alone in a foreign land. They will need age-appropriate toys and books. They will also need the company of responsible adults, especially those who speak Spanish. As a parent and as one who has himself been a stranger in a strange land, I know this will matter. It is unclear at this point what the role of volunteers will be if a facility opens here, but we will work with the federal government and with faith and refugee organizations to give those who want a way to help a channel to do so. If you call the Governor’s office, we will collect names and information of interested adults and forward them to any shelter we may have through the appropriate relief agencies.
There are practical, policy and political arguments not to shelter these children, and I have heard many of them. We have consulted with the federal government to assure they will meet all the children’s needs and bear all the costs. We have consulted with refugee agencies to understand what the children’s needs will be. And I have talked with faith leaders and searched my own conscience.
I have come down where I have for two main reasons, love of country and lessons of faith.
We are a great Nation. Unlike any other superpower, America’s power, to paraphrase a great man, comes from giving, not from taking. America, and this Commonwealth in particular, has given sanctuary to desperate children for centuries. We have rescued Irish children from famine, Russian and Ukrainian children from religious persecution, Cambodian children from genocide, Haitian children from earthquakes, Sudanese children from civil war, and New Orleans children from Hurricane Katrina. Once, in 1939, we turned our backs on Jewish children fleeing the Nazis, and it remains a blight on our national reputation. The point is that this good Nation is great when we open our doors and our hearts to needy children, and diminished when we don’t.
The other reason I have offered our help is more personal, less about patriotism and more about faith. I believe that we will one day have to answer for our actions -- and our inactions. My faith teaches that “if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him,” but rather “love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Lev. 19:33-34). We are admonished to take in the stranger, for “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these,” Christ tells us, “you did it to Me.” (Matthew 25:43, 45). Every major faith tradition on earth charges its followers to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated.
I don’t know what good there is in faith if we can’t and won’t turn to it in moments of human need. And I thank Cardinal O’Malley, Bishop Borders and the many other faith and lay leaders I’ve spoken with for reminding me of that.
I want to invite some of our guests this morning to make a few comments and then I am happy to take your questions.