:“The state of Rhode Island has not been officially contacted by any federal entity regarding either services or sheltering unaccompanied children who have crossed the U.S. border in the Southwest. If and when there is a request from the federal government, I will share it publicly,” Governor Lincoln Chafee said in a public statement Monday night.
But while the Obama Administration hasn’t requested the state to take in any children, the issue has divided opinions locally.
Connecticut and Governor Dan Molloy (D) denied the request, whereas Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (D) offered to house the children at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee and Camp Edwards in Barnstable County, according to the Boston Globe.
Local citizens are beginning to question what would happen should Rhode Island to be asked to house upwards of hundreds of children.
At the last City Council meeting July 14, Don Chiaski spoke out about the possibility of children being housed in Warwick. He implored the council to begin considering different resolutions concerning how the public schools would handle the influx of students if Rhode Island were to receive any children.
“I am sounding a warning,” Chiaski said. “I want to express my concern about the burden this could present to the state.”
Mayor Allan Fung of Cranston released a letter to Governor Chafee, asking him to turn down any request for Rhode Island to house undocumented children.
In his letter, Fung writes that he is aware both Connecticut and Massachusetts were contacted and Chafee is looking into potential sites, but Fung is concerned about the issues and difficulties it would pose to the state.
“I am the son of immigrants who came here legally, and I celebrate the fact that our nation was built by immigrants. But I also believe we are a nation of laws and those laws need to be followed, as my parents and millions of other immigrants have done,” Fung wrote.
He said that he understands the appeal of the American Dream, but that people should have to go the legal route to attain it. He said, “There are millions of people who are waiting patiently in line to come to our country legally. They are also being let down by our failure to enforce our laws.”
Fung noted that Rhode Island also spends more than the national average per capita on human services. He believes that any further strain would be “unfair to our own citizens in need of services.”
He said, “We simply do not have the resources to fund any such request from the president.”
In the letter, Fung implored Chafee to join him in demanding immigration reform on a federal level rather than burdening individual states.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said, “Should Rhode Island be contacted, I would hope that there would be some consideration to having a private charitable group such as St. Mary’s Home for Children provide services instead of state or local government.”
The Boston Globe reported that Governor Patrick was “emotional” in defending his decision to house the undocumented children.
“I believe that we will one day have to answer for our actions — and our inactions,” Patrick said
He explained that although housed in Massachusetts, the federal government would be paying, staffing and maintaining whichever facility they occupied for the four months it would be used. The children would not be attending public schools. The children would be staying until they could be reunited with relatives in the U.S. or deported safely.
Patti Macreading, executive director of the Rhode Island Family Shelter, said that even if Rhode Island was given the same offer as Massachusetts, she didn’t know where the funding would be coming from. She said her own funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had been significantly cut. She questioned if further funding would be pulled were Rhode Island to house the undocumented children crossing the border.
Macreading said, “The concern I have, especially in working in a shelter, is we can’t find housing for our own citizens. It is not that we don’t feel compassion towards these kids, but we don’t have the financial means to help.”
Governor Patrick quoted scripture in explaining his reasons to house the children, 3 to 17 years old.
“My faith teaches that, if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him, but rather love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” he said.
“Every major faith tradition on the planet charges its followers to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated,” he added. “I don’t know what good there is in faith if we can’t, and won’t, turn to it in moments of human need.”
Reverend Dr. Don Anderson, executive minister for the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, in a phone interview Tuesday, said, “These are the laws. The law is a process and that takes time. The government needs a safe and adequate place to house these children for the process.”
He said financial and “lawful” concerns were “red herrings” of the issue.
Anderson said that he would be “100 percent” behind housing the undocumented children should Rhode Island be requested to do so.
“People who want to send the kids back because it is cheaper and easier, despite that these children may possibly face immense danger, are frankly immoral,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that these kids are coming from some of the most dangerous countries in the world with high gang activity, corrupted governments and immense social unrest. Most of them are refugees, fleeing the dangers of their countries.
He pointed out Rhode Island’s founder Roger Williams fled Massachusetts to seek refuge from the political injustices. The colony had tried to send Williams back to Britain, much like we are now trying to send these children away.
Anderson said, “If any state should act as a sanctuary, Rhode Island should be that state. We were founded on those very principles.”