Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) announced a proposal on Friday for two military facilities to serve as host sites for some of the thousands of undocumented Central American immigrants who have come into the U.S. in recent months, saying the move falls in line with the country's tradition of helping children in need.
"We have rescued Irish children from famine, Russian and Ukrainian children from religious persecution, Cambodian children from genocide, Haitian children from earthquakes, Sudanese children from civil war, and New Orleans children from Hurricane Katrina," Patrick said. "Once, in 1939, we turned our backs on Jewish children fleeing the Nazis, and it remains a blight on our national reputation. The point is that this good Nation is great when we open our doors and our hearts to needy children, and diminished when we don't."
Patrick's remark alluded to the refusal on the part of U.S. in 1939 to allow a ship carrying more than 900 Jewish refugees escaping the emerging Nazi regime in Germany to land on American shores. Belgium, France, Britain and the Netherlands subsequently took the refugees in.
CBS News reported in May that the U.S. also denied London stockbroker Sir Nicholas Winston's request that same year to provide asylum for 669 Czechoslovakian children -- many of them Jewish -- who were also fleeing from the Nazis. A memo from the State Department to the American embassy in London instructed embassy staff to tell him that the U.S. "unable, in the absence of specific legislation, to permit immigration in excess of that provided for by existing immigration laws." Those children were also taken in by Britain.
In his speech on Friday, Patrick said that the current wave of "unaccompanied minors," who hail primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, presented a humanitarian crisis for federal officials searching for adequate facilities in which to put them. He proposed using Joint Base Cape Cod in Bourne and Westover Air Base in Chicopee, with the operation supervised and funded by the Department of Health and Human Services and children staying there an average of 35 days while they are processed to determine whether they will join family members in this country or be deported.
Patrick, who worked as a civil rights lawyer before being appointed to the Justice Department's civil rights division by then-President Bill Clinton in 1994, was joined by several religious leaders during his remarks, and cited his faith as one factor in his proposal.
"Every major faith tradition on earth charges its followers to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated," Patrick said. "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."
Watch Patrick's remarks, as posted online on Friday, below.
[h/t Mother Jones]