BOSTON -- Gov. Deval Patrick said Wednesday he's weighing a request from President Barack Obama's administration about whether Massachusetts can shelter some of the unaccompanied children crossing the nation's southern border illegally.
Patrick said the request came during the past week.
The governor said if Massachusetts agrees to shelter the children, they would be held in secure facilities and not released into neighborhoods.
Patrick called the situation at the southern border a "humanitarian crisis" and said that while there are limits to the assistance that the state can provide, Massachusetts should do what it can.
"We need to understand the scope of what it is that we are being asked to do, but I can tell you personally that I don't think as a commonwealth that we can turn away and turn our backs to children who are coming from desperate situations," Patrick told reporters Wednesday.
Patrick said his administration is still trying to understand the scope of what it is Massachusetts is being asked to do and how many minors the state could shelter.
Patrick said similar requests have been made to all states. He didn't say when he would make a final decision about how many children the state could shelter.
"We're trying to sort out what that number is," Patrick said.
House Minority Leader Brad Jones said finding secure locations to shelter people crossing into the country illegally could encourage more people to make the trip.
"How many people are we talking about? What are we talking about when we talk about children? Are we talking about 5-year-olds or 20-year-olds? What are our cost exposures?" said Jones, a North Reading Republican.
Jones also asked why, if the state has facilities capable of sheltering large numbers of people, does it continue to place homeless families in more expensive private hotels and motels?
Patrick said the federal government would cover the costs of housing any unaccompanied minors.
Unaccompanied children from Central America have been arriving at the border by the thousands, with 90,000 expected by the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. They flee violence, but also are drawn by rumors that once here, they can stay.
President Barack Obama has requested $3.7 billion in emergency spending request to help address the situation at the border. Republicans have been pushing to significantly pare down that request.
There is precedent for Massachusetts offering temporary shelter in crisis situations. In 2005, 235 Hurricane Katrina evacuees were housed at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod until they could be placed in permanent housing.
In Connecticut, state officials have rejected a federal request to temporarily house up to 2,000 immigrant children from Central America at a mostly vacant facility built for developmentally disabled adults.
Federal officials said they would cover expenses and the only cost to Connecticut would be "maintaining the viability of the facilities while in use." Connecticut officials said the facility wasn't suitable, pointing to its size and deteriorating conditions as well as the fact that some people were still housed there.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's office declined to say Wednesday whether the state would try to find other facilities that could meet the federal government's needs.