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Vocal support, opposition to housing immigrant children

While Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner wants the city to be a temporary shelter for Central American children fleeing to the country, there is a vocal opposition against it.

There are strong opinions on both sides over whether Syracuse should become a temporary shelter site for the children.

The mayor was interrupted often Thursday evening by a boisterous crowd at a North Side meeting with shouts of "legal!" and applause for comments both for and against.

It took back-to-back sessions to accommodate an overflow crowd of a few hundred.

Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO
Patricia Donovan speaks with Mayor Stephanie Miner.

Miner sent a letter last week to President Barack Obama, opening the city up to housing young Central American children she calls refugees fleeing from violence. Cities in Massachusetts and Iowa have made similar offers.

A former Catholic convent for the Sisters of St. Francis on Syracuse’s North Side has been proposed as a shelter. It’s the only site in New York that passed an initial federal inspection, Miner told the crowd at Pastime Athletic Club.

The average stay for the kids is 35 days, according to immigration officials. Many are paired with family members, while others must be housed until they can be taken before an immigration judge.

But Miner says she doesn’t know how many children would be sent here or how long the convent would be used. About 60,000 children have crossed the southern border in the past eight months.

Many people at the meeting told the mayor she should worry about the city before Central America. They proposed using the convent to house veterans or the homeless.

Patricia Donovan, a North Side resident, says she’s seen the neighborhood decline in the decades she’s lived there. And she believes this would only make it worse.

"What do I do? What do I do?" she asked the mayor, standing just a foot away.

"My grandchildren walk these neighborhoods. I can’t deal with this crime anymore on the North Side. Nobody, you’re not extending your neighborhood. It’s where I live." 

Credit Ryan Delaney / WRVO
A crowd at Pastime Athletic Club listens to Mayor Stephanie Miner.

Miner says there have been no instances of violence or health risks at the hundred other facilities that already house the children.

"There is an ill-informed belief that some of these children are gang members, and it’s just the opposite," she said afterward. "They're fleeing violence and they're children."

Residents such as Ed McGuire repeated a theme that the North Side has already taken in hundreds of immigrants and there's a limit.

"It’s a matter of people such as myself who have lived on the North Side all my life and are worried about and concerned about the integrity of our neighborhood," he said. "Bottom line, that’s what it is."

Others at the meeting told the mayor they support the opportunity to help and the community should be welcoming.

"All children should be loved," Rebecca Fuentes said, whose mother lives in the city.

The mayor says she has no timeline for when she’ll find out if Syracuse will be selected as a shelter site.