Rally supports accepting undocumented children

‘You can’t close the door on children,’ Rep. Sanchez says

Immigration advocates gathered in the shadow of the Irish Famine Memorial in downtown Boston Monday to urge support for housing undocumented children who have streamed into the United States in record numbers within the past year.

“You can’t close the door on children,” Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez told a small crowd of advocates bolstered by curious tourists. After his prepared remarks, the Jamaica Plain Democrat said the city of Boston could “absolutely” house some of the undocumented children if appropriate facilities can be located.

“I have to say that President Obama got this one right,” said Mel King, longtime Boston community activist and the first African American candidate for mayor of Boston.

At the behest of the Obama administration, Gov. Deval Patrick’s offer to house undocumented children at Joint Base Cape Cod and at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee has sparked an outcry from residents who are opposed to housing the children at regional military facilities. Although federal and state officials said that the children would remain on the bases, protestors on opposite ends of the state have expressed the same fears: that the children may end up staying in the United States indefinitely, forcing local public schools and health services to educate and assist them.

Mel King (right) and Horace Small, Union of Minority Neighborhoods
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of undocumented children crossing the southern US border has doubled in less than a year. More than 47,000 children were apprehended by federal authorities between October 2013 and May 2014. In fiscal 2013, nearly 25,000 children were taken into custody by US border officials.

Last week, the Bourne Board of Selectmen voted to oppose the Cape housing plan. Chicopee Mayor Richard Kos is also against the plan. Statewide, voters are conflicted: 50 percent of people polled by the Boston Globe support welcoming the children; 43 percent oppose the move.

In an interview with the Boston Herald Saturday, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he would be open to housing some of the children in the city—even if sheltering them upset some people. “They made it here,” the mayor said, “and only God knows how many didn’t make it here. We have to try and provide them with some opportunities. And I’m not going to oppose that.”

Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson is one of three city councilors who support the mayor’s offer. “The question is not is not one of capacity, the question is one of morality,” he told the Boston crowd. “Do we do the right thing by these young people?’ Jackson asked.

Cristina Aguilera, of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said that the organization has received “hundreds of calls” of support since protests erupted on the Cape after the governor’s announcement. Aguilera broke into tears as she noted how she fled violence in her native Venezuela to come to the United States. “We need to make sure that [the Central American children] do not have to go back to be killed in their countries,” she said.

Toni Saunders of the Associated Advocacy Center, which provides education services in Sandwich, said she worries that the protests against housing the children are racially motivated and are similar to the ones that greeted Hurricane Katrina evacuees in 2005.

“If we bring them in, they are going to take our resources and they are probably not going to leave,” said Saunders, describing the protestors’ fears. But, she added, “If these were white children, I don’t know that we would be acting the same way.”

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Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

Rally organizer Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, acknowledged that negative views about the undocumented children extend to members of Boston’s African American community. Some blacks believe that local communities of color have enough of their own serious problems and should not get involved in immigration issues, but Small disagrees.

“Once in a while you’ve got to step to the plate,” he said. “We’re not Murrieta, California,” he said, invoking the name of the West Coast community where residents turned back Department of Homeland Security buses carrying undocumented Central American mothers and their children.

Photos by Gabrielle Gurley