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Mayor opposes proposal to use Westover

July 25, 2014 | By G. Michael Dobbs

City Council President George Moreau listened as Mayor Richard Kos made a point about his reaction to Gov. Deval Patrick’s announcement to house illegal aliens at Westover.
Reminder Publications photo by G. Michael Dobbs

CHICOPEE – Days after Mayor Richard Kos and City Council President George Moreau reacted unfavorably to the proposal to use Westover Air Reserve Base as a location to temporarily house children who are illegal aliens, Kos told Reminder Publications he has yet to have a follow-up conversation with a member of the Patrick Administration.
On July 18, Kos and Moreau conducted a press conference in reaction to the announcement made earlier that day by Gov. Deval Patrick. Kos said that he had only learned of the governor’s intentions through a conversation with Patrick’s Chief of Staff Richard Sullivan that day.
Patrick’s statements were made in response to a call from President Barack Obama to all governors for help in housing the thousands of unaccompanied minors who have crossed over illegally to the United States. 
Kos read the following statement: “The city of Chicopee received word this morning from Governor Patrick’s administration that he has proposed two locations in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to shelter the unaccompanied children impacted by the humanitarian crisis at our southern border. The two locations are Camp Edwards at Joint Base Cape Cod and Westover Air Reserve Base here in Chicopee.
“Though the city of Chicopee is sensitive and concerned about the humanitarian issue that has developed, the potential location of these children at Westover Air Reserve Base makes no sense. We have and are continuing to work to preserve Westover for its military role both locally and in the nation. I am proud to work with Congressman [Richard] Neal in that effort. Though it is a federal Department of Defense decision, the concern we have locally is the impact on an operational airfield and on that base’s operation. We are not aware of any lodging, which would be available given the fact that base housing there is utilized weekly and on weekends by military personnel. Though the governor indicates no impact on the local community, we are more than skeptical about that.
“Westover should not be an option because it is not an option.  It is an operational airfield without the logistics to house children and maintain its security without impacting its operations.
“The proposal by the governor to use Westover does not work for these children and it does not work for the city of Chicopee,” Kos concluded.
Moreau said the City Council would look into the impact of the proposal if it becomes reality and questioned what would be the city’s involvement and costs.
“I’m mistrustful about the federal government handling anything,” Moreau said.
The governor did send Kos several pages of information that would describe the program if it were implemented. According to this information, 1,000 illegal alien children would be in Massachusetts for a stay of approximately 35 days to assess their status, which would include “deportation, reunification or asylum.” The federal government would fund all costs.
The documents supplied by the governor’s office stated the program would not be open-ended: “Before any temporary facility opens here, the Commonwealth will sign an memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the federal government to ensure that, among other things, the state will not be responsible for the costs of the facility, and to ensure that municipality hosting the facility has input on the circumstances of being a host location. The MOU will state a period of time that the facility will be open, and the conditions to which any extension would be subject.”
According to the documents, the program should not affect Chicopee schools. “Students from these federal facilities will not be attending local public schools during their short-term period of sheltering. The federal government is handling other logistics at these facilities as well.”
Kos noted that Chicopee is the number one community Massachusetts for the state to house homeless families in hotels and motels, a program that has had a significant impact on the city’s schools.
The mayor said using Westover is not a “done deal.” The Department of Health and Human Services must approve any site and Kos added the Department of Defense is not in favor of the base being used in this way.

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