WBUR

800 Young Immigrants Have Arrived In Mass. Since January

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — While Massachusetts residents debate Gov. Deval Patrick’s proposal to offer temporary shelter to as many as 1,000 young immigrants, nearly as many have quietly arrived in the state since January.

The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement says nearly 800 children have been placed with families here, landing in places like New Bedford. Ten-year-old Erica is among them.

A bright-eyed girl born in El Salvador, Erica and her older sister arrived in February after being detained at the U.S. border. Federal officials reunited the girls with their parents in New Bedford while their deportation order is processed.

Erica says the “coyote,” or human smuggler who carried them across the border, was good to them. Erica and her sister had not seen their mother since 2007, when she left their village to work in the fish plants in this port city.

Erica’s family — which includes three sisters and both parents — live in a humble triple-decker in New Bedford’s South End. The daughters are part of a tide of nearly 60,000 Central American children who have been apprehended crossing the border since October.

The bulk of them are entered into the Unaccompanied Alien Children program run by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, which offers the children the chance to be reunited with families if they are here, and offered basic necessities like shelter, education and immigration proceedings, which are reviewed by courts and can take years.

Isabel, Erica’s 35-year-old mother, has asked that her last name not be used because her own deportation order is being processed. She worried about her daughters making the long and often dangerous journey to the U.S. border.

She says they heard stories about children being kidnapped and dying along the way, but when her mother told her about the growing threats to the girls from local gangs, she decided to send for her oldest daughter. When she arrived safely, she then sent for the younger daughters.

Federal officials say nearly 800 children have been released to sponsors in Massachusetts. Most of the youth have entered the U.S. from three Central American countries — Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, which have seen increasing violence from gangs and drug traffickers.

New Bedford was the site of the 2007 raid of the Michael Bianco factory, when 361 workers were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Adrian Ventura emerged from the raid as the voice of the city’s Mayan population

“Let’s talk about Latin America. The gangs. The lack of opportunity. The lack of a plan on the part of the governments. The drug situation. That’s the exodus. And when they get here things get better,” Ventura said. “They study. They’re not taking bread from anyone else. They feel safe and comfortable. They’re in school. They have opportunities they don’t have in their countries.”

Ventura, executive director of Centro Comunitario de Trabajadores, says child arrivals are nothing new. He said he first left Guatemala at age 12, destined for Mexico, and would enter the U.S. illegally twice before finally settling in New Bedford 10 years ago and receiving asylum. He thinks things will pan out for most of the newcomers.

“In sum, I think they find stability here,” he said. “The kids are in peace — there’s no one threatening them here.”

It’s difficult to confirm how many have landed in New Bedford. School officials say 228 children from those three countries have enrolled in city schools over the last few years.

Schools Superintendent Pia Durkin says the schools are no place for the political furor over immigration politics.

“We know public education is the great equalizer. We also know it is a zero-reject model,” Durkin said. “Children come into our doors not only in August, but in September, November, May, and we accept and have a moral imperative to teach and ensure that every child has access to equal opportunity, to be a successful, contributing citizen.”

The district has hired more English language teachers and needs more social workers to help students and families integrate, Durkin says. These families also need legal services and representation, which is where Irene Scharf comes in.

“I can’t say all, but, actually, I would. We win essentially all of our cases,” said Scharf, who heads the immigration law clinic at UMass Dartmouth Law School, which is providing legal counsel to several unaccompanied minors seeking relief.

Scharf says many of the newcomers will qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile status, and by demonstrating parental neglect, abuse or abandonment, these cases can qualify for green cards and citizenship. Others can apply for asylum or as victims of trafficking or of a crime.

Those who don’t qualify could be deported, though all have the right to immigration proceedings.

“We’re all becoming border states now. I mean Massachusetts is becoming a border state with the number of people who are coming here directly from the border,” said Bristol County Sheriff Tom Hodgson, who has been a vocal critic of current immigration policies despite his federal contract to operate a immigrant detention facility in Dartmouth. He recently visited the Texas-Mexico border to see the impacts of the recent surge of young immigrants.

“The most profound experience would have been visiting the processing center, and seeing so many kids in the processing center — 14, 15 of them in a cell — some sort of looking out, sleeping on the floor in the middle of the afternoon,” Hodgson said.

The future for many of these immigrants is uncertain, including those like Isabel who are trying to rebuild their lives in New Bedford and other communities. Despite all the risks of dangerous journeys and possible deportation, she believes she made the right decision.

It takes a lot of work to get into this country, she says, but it’s worth it. When you’re here it’s better to stay and settle down. It’s no good to return.

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  • Lawrence

    You have to wonder why in the world these parents had kids if they have no means of supporting them other to abandon them in a violent situation.

    Is this country encouraging this behavior by granting licenses and other state benefits to those who come here breaking Federal Law, abandoning their kids in what would be called child abuse here at home?

  • gossipy

    Of course we’re encouraging it! I am so utterly sick of being lied to and treated like a bank by our politicians. I am truly sorry for the plight of these illegal migrants, but we need to take care of ourselves first. Without resources, we will be unable to take care of anyone.

  • rickrabin

    Through its policies and laws, like NAFTA and the drug wars, the US is making life in many Latin American countries unbearable. So let’s stop blaming the victims and go after the perpetrators – the large corporations and the politicians who just want to criminalize drug use instead of treating it as the public health crisis that it is.

    • Lawrence

      Or let’s go after the corrupt Central American governments for helping and abiding these local terrorists.

  • JBGabriel@aol.com

    “While our country numbers among its best citizens many of those
    of foreign birth, yet those who now enter in violation of our laws by that very
    act thereby place themselves in a class of undesirables…. We ought to have no
    prejudice against an alien because he is an alien. The standard which we apply
    to our inhabitants is that of manhood, not place of birth. Restrictive
    immigration is to a large degree for economic purposes. It is applied in order
    that we may not have a larger annual increment of good people within our
    borders than we can weave into our economic fabric in such a way as to supply
    their needs without undue injury to ourselves.”

    “Our country has one cardinal principle to maintain in its foreign
    policy. It is an American principle. It must be an American policy. We attend
    to our own affairs, conserve our own strength, and protect the interests of our
    own citizens; but we recognize thoroughly our obligation to help others,
    reserving to the decision of our own Judgment the time, the place, and the
    method. We realize the common bond of humanity. We know the inescapable law of
    service.” – President Calvin Coolidge

    • markgood1090

      When Calvin Coolidge was President in 1924, they passed a law severely restricting immigration. They didn’t like all those unwashed, dirty immigrants from Italy, Greece, Poland, Russia, Eastern Europe, Japan and China who had come in large numbers around 1900.So they restricted immigration to a percentage of the nationalities that were already here in the 1890 census; 25 years earlier. The result was that when lots of people started getting killed in Europe by Hitler and Stalin, they couldn’t escape death by coming here. A lot of good people died because we had closed our borders.

      • JBGabriel@aol.com

        I think that blaming WW II deaths caused by Hitler on Calvin Coolidge is quite a stretch of the imagination by the radical progressives who live in a fantasy world rather than reality. Controlled, orderly immigration is a good thing. The only alternative to order is disorder and entropy. That is exactly what we have today in the Obama and Patrick administrations, which govern unconstitutionally by executive order rather than by the will of the people through the Congress and the state legislature.

        • markgood1090

          I only mentioned Calvin Coolidge because you quoted him. My point was that the USA welcomed millions of immigrants from Europe during the 24 years after 1890.
          Those immigrants and their families made America great for most of the 1900′s.
          But because of the sudden tightening of the immigration laws in 1924, millions of innocent people were killed by Stalin and Hitler in the 1930′s and 1940′s because they couldn’t escape to the US as their cousins had done just 20 years earlier.

          We don’t want to repeat that mistake of allowing these children from Central America to be killed because of some technicality in US immigration law.

  • Console Mods

    For the bleeding hearts out there – open your wallets and pay for them so my taxes don’t go up and my kids don’t have to deal with even denser packed classrooms where English isn’t the primary language.
    Don’t make me or my children pay for your wanting to do ‘good’.

    • Guest

      Dear Console. It’s too late. You are paying. You are paying the $4 Billion Obama says is needed just to process the influx. Maybe we should do this or maybe we shouldn’t. The fact is we are.

      Also, on Kaiser’s website, the largest healthcare provider in California, they state some of the facts:

      But a little-known part of the state-federal health insurance program
      for the poor has long paid about $2 billion a year for emergency
      treatment for a group of patients who, according to hospitals, mostly
      comprise illegal immigrants.

      The lion’s share goes to reimburse hospitals for delivering babies for women who show up in their emergency rooms, according to interviews with hospital officials and studies.

    • Lawrence

      Dear Console. It’s too late. You are paying. You are paying the $4 Billion Obama says is needed just to process the influx. Maybe we should do this or maybe we shouldn’t. The fact is we are.

      Also, on Kaiser’s website, the largest healthcare provider in California, they state some of the facts:

      But a little-known part of the state-federal health insurance program
      for the poor has long paid about $2 billion a year for emergency
      treatment for a group of patients who, according to hospitals, mostly
      comprise illegal immigrants.

      The lion’s share goes to reimburse hospitals for delivering babies for women who show up in their emergency rooms, according to interviews with hospital officials and studies.

  • maisy

    The lawless Obama and Patrick amounts to TREASON in my book.when millions of Americans are unemployed, suffering and struggling to get by they dump an additional burden on them. It is disgraceful and Obama should be tried for TREASON.

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