BOURNE — Local residents and members of the Board of Selectmen condemned a plan Tuesday that could bring immigrant children from Latin America, who have recently entered the United States illegally, to a military base on Cape Cod.
At their meeting Tuesday night, Bourne selectmen said the presence of the children at the Camp Edwards base, which lies partly in Bourne, would unfairly burden the community at the expense of residents. Camp Edwards is located at Joint Base Cape Cod.
“We are here to provide services, and we need to take care of our own first,” chairman Peter J. Meier said.
Selectwoman Linda M. Zuern expressed concerns about larger issues of immigration policy and the expenditure of taxpayer dollars to support immigrants entering the country illegally.
“Something should have been done years ago to keep people from coming across the border,” she said.
Zuern elicited applause from the crowd when she declared that money spent on immigrants could be better spent on citizens in the community.
Governor Deval Patrick, in response to an urgent request from the Obama administration for help in housing some of the migrant children crossing the US border, said that he has asked officials to find a location for several hundred of the Central American children for about four months. Camp Edwards in Barnstable County and the Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee are two of the possible sites.
Selectman Donald E. Ellis pointed to Westover and called it a better location.
Kurt N. Schwartz, the state’s undersecretary for homeland security, forcefully rebutted concerns expressed by selectmen that some minors had already come to the base.
“You are responding to rumors that have no basis in fact,” he told the board.
Schwartz said housing the children would have no costs and bring no burdens on local services that he is aware of, except possible fire or emergency medical services.
He said that if any immigrant children are housed in Massachusetts, they would be 6 to 17 years old and would have an average stay of 35 days. About 55 percent would probably be released to relatives in the United States, he said, while about 45 percent would be deported.
A small number would probably be granted asylum, but have no family in the United States, he said, and would be placed in a residential program like that run in Massachusetts by Lutheran Family Services.
Selectmen voted Tuesday night to send the governor a letter opposing the housing of the children at Camp Edwards.
About 40 people, including members of the public and elected officials such as state Representative David Vieira, an East Falmouth Republican, attended the meeting Tuesday night at the Bourne Veterans Memorial Community Center.
Buzzards Bay resident Mary Woodruff sat near the front and held up a banner that read, “Send them back. They broke the law.”
She told the board she thinks many who entered the country illegally were not “cute little kids.”
“They’re adults,” she said. “And they know what they’re doing. And they’re going to be sucking us dry. Send them . . . back.”
Phil Michaud, a Sagamore fisherman, said he was concerned about his family’s safety.
“These people don’t have the same culture we have here in Bourne, and we have to protect our children,” said Michaud, 49.
Sagamore resident Michael Frasier said he did not believe the information that was given to state officials and that was conveyed at the meeting by Schwartz was truthful, and he cautioned that the legal process could take far longer than projected.
“This is going to snowball out of control,” Frasier said.
Not all community members opposed the plan.
A clergy member called on residents to ask themselves how they could best help those in need, and 90-year-old Jim Mulvey of Buzzards Bay asked his neighbors to remove politics from the equation.
“This is not a political problem,” Mulvey said. “This is a social, civic, humanitarian problem. We have children here that we have to take care of that are in limbo.”
Camp Edwards is part of a military reservation on Cape Cod that took in evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Brian Herr, a Hopkinton Republican challenging US Senator Edward J. Markey, attended to learn more about the issue, he said. As a father of five, Herr said he feels compassion for the children, but he believes the government should be doing more to secure the nation’s borders and develop an immigration policy that works.
“My biggest frustration with the policy is that situations always seem to manage the leadership rather than leaders managing the situation,” he said.
The issue of housing immigrant children has drawn debate across the country and in Massachusetts.
After lending his support for a temporary facility, Patrick said the shelter would be secure “without being a jail,” administered by the US Department of Health and Human Services, and allow immigration officials to hold processing hearings for the children.
“It bears remembering they’re children and they’re alone,” Patrick said last week. “I think we are the kind of country and the kind of Commonwealth who can step up.”