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Amid Controversy Over Immigrant Children, Somerville Welcomes Them

By David Bloch | 09/05/2014
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by Somerville Neighborhood News (Contributing Reporters: Margaret Teague and Jane Regan)

From SNN #21 – 8/12/14 – Somerville for Immigrant Kids

SOMERVILLE, Mass., Aug. 12, 2014 – While some cities and towns have said they don’t want to host immigrant children from Central America, Somerville’s agencies, non-profits and many residents are welcoming them.

About two to three immigrant children have been arriving in Somerville each week this past summer. Health workers estimate that there are at least 70 of the recent arrivals – known as “unaccompanied minors” – in the city, mostly living with relatives.

The phenomenon is nothing new, according to Somerville School Parent Information Center Director Regina Bertholdo.

“This has been happening for many years,” she told Somerville Neighborhood News. “However, the amount of kids now has sparked an interest, and a lot of communities were caught by surprise. We’ll have strategic ways of welcoming these children, making sure they are registered in school, making sure they are vaccinated, that they get their medical health insurance, and that they get the services they deserve.”

Bertholdo and others from Somerville agencies recently attended a meeting of over 100 people from greater Boston area school systems and agencies at Chelsea High School.

So far in FY2014, more than 57,000 children have arrived in the country, double the number from the year before.

Most children end up with a “sponsor” or “custodial” family, often a related to the child, while they await a hearing to see if they will be allowed to stay.

“One of the biggest issues at this moment is finding legal representation for all these children,” Bertholdo said. “In future court meetings they will need legal representation. Unfortunately there are a lot of people out there who are charging a lot of money, and… these families really cannot afford it.”

At the July 30 meeting, one mother asked if an unaccompanied minor could be sponsored by a family that is also undocumented.

“As long as the family who wants to be the sponsor who is trying to reunite with the child [and] has no criminal history, it should be fine. If they’re undocumented – and the majority of my kids, sponsors and parents are undocumented – that’s fine, no big deal,” said a representative of Lutheran Social Services.

Reverand Ben Echevarria, The Welcome Project’s board president, also attended. He said that understanding, and being compassionate about, the uptick in immigrant kids is important.

“Somerville is affected because we are a diverse community, and we do have adults that are undocumented living in our city, we have a lot of people in general,” he said. “It affects us because it’s the heart of who we are, it’s the heart of what Somerville has been for at least the last 20 years.”

“At the end of the day I think we’re all family,” Echevarria added. “We’re always talking about helping, ‘the least of these.’ We’re supposed to stand up for injustices, so I think as Christians we need to think about, ‘What is our role in this?’”

As many as 30,000 children could arrive at the Mexican border by the end of September, officials estimate. The number of children that might end up in in Somerville is unknown.

On Aug. 7, Somerville residents and immigrant advocates were also present at a rally and march organized by the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition (MIRA) called “Stand Up for All Children.

Hundreds of people gathered at Copley Square and marched to the State House with banners and signs, shouting slogans in English and Spanish like: “What do we want? Justice! When? Now!”

“This is a pro-migrant rally, specifically to shed light on the child migrant crisis that is currently occurring and has been occurring for decades,” explained Laura Gonzalez, a Somerville resident who was formerly undocumented.

“I specifically migrated to the United States when I was six years [old] from Colombia and at that time my country was a country that was completely torn up and it was a war zone. So I myself sympathize with what’s going on with migrant children right now,” she added.

h/t Open Media Boston