Nearly 40 people filled the selectmen’s meeting room at the Bourne Veterans Memorial Community Center Tuesday night, July 22, to hear selectmen and state officials on the subject of Camp Edwards on Joint Base Cape Cod housing unaccompanied minor alien children. Those residents also came to voice their opinion, and in unison, they sided with the board. The townspeople and selectmen both said they do not want the children in Bourne.
“Send them the hell back,” Mary Woodruff of Buzzards Bay said.
Pauline B. Dupuis agreed with her fellow Buzzards Bay resident, telling selectmen that the country should simply “send them back where they came from.”
Phillip R. Michaud Jr. of Sagamore spoke of living with his wife and children in Fort Myers, Florida, back in 2008, where his children went to public school with illegal alien children. Mr. Michaud called the school environment “dangerous.” He cautioned selectmen that the safety of the town’s children could be jeopardized.
“These people don’t have the same culture we have here in Bourne. We need to protect our students,” he said.
Michael T. Fraser, also of Sagamore, said that the influx of illegal children from south of the border is not “a Democrat or Republican problem,” but a problem that the entire country has to confront now. He advised the board to take a stand against Governor Deval L. Patrick’s offer to President Obama of either Camp Edwards or Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee to host some of the children, otherwise “this is going to snowball out of control,” he said.
Last week, Gov. Patrick confirmed that Camp Edwards or Westover could be used to house the young detainees. Only one location in the state will be used, and it is possible the federal government will not choose either.
Kurt N. Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency and Undersecretary for Homeland Security and Emergency Management, told selectmen that any sheltering facility at Camp Edwards, should Joint Base Cape Cod be chosen, would be needed for up to four months, but the average stay for any one child would be 35 days. Estimates of how many children would need to be sheltered at Camp Edwards have ranged from several hundred to as many as a thousand.
Mr. Schwartz said while Camp Edwards has been offered, the federal government has not yet done an assessment of the property, and he could not say if they ever will. He said there is no time-frame presently for when a decision will be made, and attempted to dispel rumors that there were already people secretly being housed at the base.
“Nothing is being hidden on base. No children or anyone else has arrived yet,” he said.
Mr. Schwartz said that last year 40,000 unaccompanied minor aliens were taken into custody for illegally crossing the southern border into the United States. So far this year, approximately 34,000 illegal immigrant children have been arrested at the border, and estimates are for a total of 60,000 by the end of the year.
He told selectmen that the federal program under which the children would be supervised has been in effect for a number of years, and was not devised in the last couple of weeks. He assured the board that the system has worked well in the past. He said prior to the arrival of the children, a Memorandum of Understanding would be signed between the federal government and the state. The memorandum would outline and detail the conditions under which Camp Edwards would be utilized.
“They can’t put a child on Joint Base Cape Cod without entering into a memorandum of understanding with the landlord, and the state is the landlord,” he said.
He explained that security on the base would be provided by the United States Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and care for the children would be provided by the Federal Department of Health and Human Services; all at virtually no cost to the town. He said the possibility does exist that either town fire or emergency medical services would have to be dispatched to the base, but expense to the town would be “close to zero.”
Mr. Schwartz said that most services—medical, educational—would be provided within the sheltering facility at Camp Edwards, all at the expense of the federal government. He also said that there are only three ways in which one of the children would leave the facility: to be united with a family member already legally here in the US; to go to court for a disposition hearing, such as being adopted; or if they require urgent medical care only available at a hospital.
Despite Mr. Schwartz’s assurances of safety and little or no financial impact to the town, selectmen agreed with the residents, each member coming out in opposition to the governor’s proposed plan.
Even with Mr. Schwartz’s reassurances, board chairman Peter J. Meier said that his concerns were primarily with the impact the presence of the children in Bourne might have on the town budget. Mr. Meier said that the board has a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers’ money and how it is spent.
“If we have to provide services to these children that are out on the base, they’re going to come at what expense?” Mr. Meier asked.
He noted that Bourne’s budget is “on a shoestring, more or less,” and the town is faced with the likelihood of an operational override next year.
“We are here to provide services and we need to take care of our own first,” he said.
Selectman Donald J. Pickard echoed Mr. Meier’s concerns about adverse ramifications on Bourne’s financial picture.
“I personally believe it will have an adverse effect financially on the Town of Bourne,” he said.
Member Stephen P. Mealy said that the response he has heard from constituents since the proposal was announced has been 2-1 against. Mr. Mealy also criticized the federal and state government for not including the selectmen or any town officials in discussions regarding the use of Camp Edwards. He questioned whether the town would have any input on the use of the facility, or simply be told what will be done. He pointed out that Joint Base Cape Cod housed evacuees from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and there were drug and alcohol problems.
“The plan is ill conceived, the facilities are ill prepared and the results will not be as those who have developed this plan have intended,” he said, concluding that he will not support the plan as presented.
Board member Donald E. (Jerry) Ellis questioned whether the problem would be exacerbated with the arrival of even more children next year. He suggested the money spent on processing the children could be of better use in the federal food stamp program which has been cut by billions, or helping US military veterans. He said that he is not in favor of warehousing children on the base, but returning them to their families in their homeland.
The most inflammatory comments of the evening came from board member Linda M. Zuern, who admitted to being outraged with President Obama for not securing the southern border. Ms. Zuern called the arrival of the children an invasion of the country, and against the US Constitution. She said that she had also heard there were already some of these children at the base, but there had been no confirmation as to who they are or what condition they are in.
“We don’t know if they’re sick or not…we don’t know if they’re gang members,” she said.
She requested that the board be invited out to Camp Edwards “as a courtesy” to see if anyone is being housed there yet.
Ms. Zuern and Mr. Schwartz squared off later during a heated exchange when she suggested that children such as those who would be at Camp Edwards eventually wind up in local prisons.
“You’re just wrong,” Mr. Schwartz said.
He explained that she was mixing up the broader issue of immigration reform and admitted there are undocumented, illegal aliens in the state’s prison system, “but not unaccompanied minors being held in secure facilities.”
State representatives Randy Hunt (R-Sandwich) and David T. Vieira (R-Falmouth) attended the meeting and said their biggest criticism was that the federal and state government did not include the town, from the beginning, in the decision making process.
Rep. Vieira celebrated last night’s discussion, saying the level of communication at the meeting was greater than the communication that has occurred “since the governor decided to answer the call from [former secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services] Kathleen Sebelius.”
Mr. Hunt agreed that it was the process and lack of local involvement that upset him, not the potential arrival of the immigrant children.
“I am not attacking anybody who has gone, in some cases, over a thousand miles to get to our border,” he said.
Mr. Hunt said the discussion should not move in the direction of pointing blame at the children. He said what should be discussed and settled is that if Camp Edwards is chosen “we should figure out how to accommodate them the best we can and make sure it doesn’t result in any expense to the local towns.”
Mr. Schwartz said that he would take the representatives’ concerns regarding policy and process back to the governor.
Selectmen agreed to draft a letter to the governor stating their position that Camp Edwards should not be considered for a sheltering facility for the children. Bourne town administrator Thomas M. Guerino said that the letter could be completed and ready for their signatures later today.