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Gov. Patrick Offers 2 Mass. Sites For Unaccompanied Children

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick on Friday proposed two locations in Massachusetts to shelter unaccompanied children crossing the nation’s southern border.

Patrick said at a morning news conference that Camp Edwards military base in Bourne and Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee will be reviewed by officials from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to see if they are suitable for housing children.

Patrick said the federal government is looking for facilities that can house up to 1,000 children for four months.

He said each child would be at the facility for up to 35 days and that all expenses and responsibility for the children will be picked up by the federal government.

Patrick said no final decision has been made yet on whether either facility would be suitable or when children may start arriving.

The governor, who became emotional speaking about the issue, called sheltering the children a moral and religious obligation.

“My faith teaches that ‘if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him,’ but rather ‘love him as yourself,’ ” he said, quoting Scripture, his eyes teary.

He added: “This good nation is great when we open our doors and our hearts to needy children, and diminished when we don’t.”

Patrick was flanked at the news conference by faith leaders, including Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who said, “Patrick has recognized the human tragedy and humanitarian crisis.”

Others were more critical of his move.

Don Humason, a Republican state senator from Westfield, said Patrick’s proposal injects Massachusetts into a much bigger debate about border security. He said the governor’s office called him Thursday night to give him a heads up, because his district includes Chicopee.

“And I expect at some point along the way, I’ll be labeled a cold, heartless person for not wanting to reach out and care for the poor children of the Central American countries south of us. So be it, I’ll accept that,” he told WBUR. “But my bigger concern is taking care of my own neighbors, my own taxpayers, my own constituents.”

The gubernatorial candidates also weighed in with statements.

Democrat Martha Coakley, the state attorney general, called Patrick’s decision “the right thing to do.” Steve Grossman, the Democratic state treasurer, said Patrick “has responded with bold, courageous leadership.” And Donald Berwick, another Democratic candidate, called Patrick’s move “an act of dignity, compassion, and generosity.”

Charlie Baker, the Republican front-runner, was more measured in a statement:

All states should work with the federal government to provide emergency assistance to these unaccompanied minors. However, it is incumbent on the federal government, which created this crisis, to be forthcoming with every state about how this program will work, how it will be funded, how these children will be cared for, and what the ultimate outcome will be for every child.

With reporting by The Associated Press and WBUR’s Asma Khalid and Benjamin Swasey

- Video courtesy of State House News Service:

Earlier:

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