“Unity Rally” Held Against Backdrop of On-going Immigration Debate: State’s Offer to Shelter Unaccompanied Minors Starts at Military Bases

The on-going public debate in Lynn is a microcosm of the larger national storyline about how the United States government and states can address the emerging problem of thousands of unaccompanied minor immigrants entering the country.

More than 150 local residents rallied at the front of City Hall on Tuesday, to call on city leaders to tamp down the rhetoric on unaccompanied minors in the local school system and instead focus on the problem of how to help these young people.

Meanwhile, at the state level, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick has offered two sites, both at Massachusetts military installations, to the federal government, as potential sheltering sites for unaccompanied minors who are crossing the border.

Camp Edwards military Base on Cape Cod and Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, have both been presented to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as potential sheltering locations within the state, with the understanding that the federal government will pay for all expenses associated with the housing, feeding and health care of children that are brought to those bases.

Governor Patrick’s staff has also sought to assure residents in the communities that house those bases that local leaders will also have a say in how the management of under-aged immigrants at the bases are cared for and supervised.

Back in Lynn, local non-profits and human services organizations, such as The Haven Project on Munroe Street, which was specifically launched to deal with the increase in unaccompanied and at-risk homeless young adults in the city, are preparing for a potential increase in the number of children they will be seeing.

“We do see a lot of unaccompanied young adults that come to the city already,” said Gini Mazman, founder and executive director of The Haven Project. “In fact we have just complimented our staff with a couple of more bi-lingual staff members, so we are preparing for an increase in the number of cases.”

Mazman noted that Lynn already has the number of unaccompanied minors and young adults in the state and noted that since her organization opened its doors in November 2013, they have worked with over 140 young homeless and at-risk young adults, who have immigrated to the country.

Mazman said that her groups has not had any contact with the state about the proposal to house the latest influx of unaccompanied minors, despite the fact the state has said it plans to reach out to humanitarian and faith-based organizations to help provide care for the children.

“I don’t have any idea what (the state) plans to do with the children once they are located in a shelter,” said Mazman. “We have so many cases right now that our focus is on working with the human services agencies and the city to help these young people become self-sufficient.”

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