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Cape Cod Residents Object As Mass. Governor Offers To House Migrant Kids

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And now to Massachusetts where the governor has offered to temporarily house up to 1,000 migrant children. The move has not been warmly received. Here's Asma Khalid from member station WBUR.

ASMA KHALID, BYLINE: Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick explained his desire to help these children as a moral obligation.

GOVERNOR DEVAL PATRICK: My faith teaches that if a stranger dwells with you and your land, you shall not mistreat him, but rather love him as yourself.

KHALID: Patrick is offering the federal government two possible locations to temporarily house immigrant children. A recent Boston Globe poll finds 50 percent of residents support his decision. One of the suggested sites is Camp Edwards, a base on Cape Cod operated by the National Guard. To most folks, the Cape is known for tourist hubs like this lobster shack. And while it is a summer haven for wealthy liberals, it is also one of most conservative corners of Massachusetts. At a public meeting this week, local residents reacted viscerally to the idea of a temporary shelter in the neighborhood.

LINDA ZUERN: It's our town, and we don't even know what's going on. We don't know how many people are coming. We don't know if they're gang members or whatever.

KHALID: Linda Zuern is on the Board of Selectmen for the town of Bourne. That's where the base is. She wore a gold cross and referenced her faith as she told the all-white audience that she isn't just worried about illegal children from Central America but also immigrants from the Middle East and China.

ZUERN: My feeling is that this whole invasion of our country is against the Constitution. I have the Constitution right here.

KHALID: An official from the governor's office repeatedly stressed that the children would not live in the community or go to local schools. They would reside on the base at no cost to Massachusetts. But still, some folks worry that immigrants could bring diseases and water down the local culture. Mary Woodruff held up a banner with the words, no illegals.

MARY WOODRUFF: They're not all little, cute, little kids with brown eyes. They know what they're doing. And they're going to be sucking us dry. Send them the hell back.

KHALID: Reactions like this don't surprise Peter Ubertaccio. He teaches political science and nearby Stonehill College.

PETER UBERTACCIO: The state is viewed as a reliably blue state, and many people believe that means it must be thoroughly liberal.

KHALID: But Ubertaccio says on some issues and in some places, the state is quite conservative.

UBERTACCIO: We still have, in Massachusetts, unsettled issues of race.

KHALID: Which is, perhaps, why those who disagree with their vocal neighbors won't say so in a microphone or they speak more softly. Mollie Traggis used to work as a pediatric nurse. She's hesitant to talk politics, but she is empathetic.

MOLLIE TRAGGIS: They're innocent children. And they need to be taken care of. And I don't know what other choices these children would have.

KHALID: But the loudest voices are people like Betty Rose. Sitting outside an ice cream shop, she evades eye contact behind her giant sunglasses. But her words are straightforward.

BETTY ROSE: I think they should be stopped at the border - period.

KHALID: In between licks of chocolate ice cream, she says people might think she's negative. But oh well, she doesn't think these children belong on Cape Cod.

ROSE: They're coming in from Texas and Arizona. What are they doing up in Massachusetts?

KHALID: No children have actually arrived at detention centers yet. And despite the fervor, it's worth noting the federal government has not yet accepted Massachusetts' offer for help. For NPR News, I'm Asma Khalid, in Boston. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.