Jul 18, 2014

Westover Air Reserve Base may house unaccompanied minors



(Photo courtesy of Westover Air Reserve Base website)

Staff report

SPRINGFIELD – Local media reported this morning that Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee is one of two sites in Massachusetts being considered to house unaccompanied minor children who have crossed the Mexican border into the United States.

Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, archbishop of Boston, and faith leaders from Massachusetts’ Muslim and Jewish communities joined Gov. Deval Patrick this morning at a press conference in Boston.

At the press conference, Gov. Patrick announced his intent to accept a request from the federal government to shelter unaccompanied minors in Massachusetts. The request was for a facility that could accommodate up to 1,000 children for a period of four months.

In western Massachusetts, Springfield Diocese spokesman Mark E. Dupont expressed the diocese’s support for a humane response to the plight of unaccompanied minors.

“The Diocese of Springfield stands in solidarity with faith leaders both across the Commonwealth and across our nation in support of a humane and compassionate response to the crisis of unaccompanied minors who have illegally crossed into our nation's borders,” Dupont said in a statement. “It is important, and in fairness to border communities, that all states lend a hand by sharing in this response. As Cardinal O'Malley stated today, 'The Catholic Church at every level, globally, nationally and locally has long experience in assisting immigrants and refugees often fleeing from danger suffering and deprivation, and we are willing to enter a collaborative relationship with the government to meet this urgent emergency.’

“Should they be placed at Westover Reserve AFB,” Dupont stated, “the diocese and Catholic Charities Agency, working with our counterparts, stand ready to provide case workers to assist in the processing of these minors, as well as for meeting their spiritual needs during their stay. Our Gospel values compel us to reach out to those in need, especially the most vulnerable  including these young people.

“We should resist the urge to treat them as pawns in a larger political debate, rather as victims themselves who are trying to escape unimaginable poverty so as to seek a better life,” said Dupont.

Cardinal O’Malley Statement

At this morning’s press conference, Cardinal O’Malley released the following statement:

“Governor Patrick has recognized the authentic human tragedy, and indeed humanitarian crisis, presented by the children now at the border coming from Central America. This past week, Pope Francis, in addressing the question of immigration globally, recognized both the complexity of the question in its broad dimensions, but then focused on the overwhelming immediacy of the needs of these children.

“The Holy Father addressed directly the human and moral crisis on our border through these words: ‘I would also like to draw attention to the tens of thousands of children who migrate alone, unaccompanied, to escape poverty and violence. This is a category of migrants from Central America and Mexico itself who cross the border with the United States under extreme conditions and in pursuit of a hope that in most cases turns out to be vain. They are increasing day by day. This humanitarian emergency requires, as a first urgent measure, these children be welcomed and protected. These measures, however, will not be sufficient, unless they are accompanied by policies that inform people about the dangers of such a journey and, above all, that promote development in their countries of origin.’

“The Catholic Church at every level, globally, nationally and locally, has long experience in assisting immigrants and refugees often fleeing from danger suffering and depravation, and we are willing to enter a collaborative relationship with the government to meet this urgent emergency.

“We do not have church facilities that are appropriate, but we do have social service agencies in the archdiocese with skilled resources to provide programs of assistance and support within the framework of a larger federal and state program providing finances and collaboration. It is crucial for all of us, I believe, to begin any discussion with our eyes on these children. The archdiocesan agencies are already stretched by demands here at home, but we still wish to offer our help in facing this humanitarian emergency. I ask my own faith community and the wider public to understand compassionately the extreme circumstances these children are facing. As a country and a church, we are capable of providing crucial assistance.”