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August 6, 2014 at 6:02 AM

As border children seek safety, some leaders show cowardice

Children considered refugees of Central America will not be sent to military bases for temporary housing, including Joint Base Lewis-McChordU.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Wash, issued a statement Tuesday that appropriately summed up the need for Congress to fund efforts to address the border crisis and to fix the nation’s broken immigration system.

In this Wednesday, June 18, 2014, file photo, two young girls watch a World Cup soccer match on a television from their holding area where hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Ariz. As of Thursday, July 17, 2014, immigrant children caught crossing the Mexican border into Texas illegally and alone are no longer being sent to a massive Nogales facility. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool, File)

A June 18, 2014 file photo at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Ariz. As of Thursday, July 17, 2014, immigrant children caught crossing the Mexican border into Texas illegally and alone are no longer being sent to a massive Nogales facility. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

“I received word today that the Department of Health and Human Services is no longer seeking facilities for temporary shelters for refugee children from Central America at this time, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord in the 10th Congressional District.

“I trust HHS to make the right decisions about what facilities are best for the refugee children, but this situation will not simply go away because the children are not staying in our district. As we continue to experience this humanitarian crisis, I support providing emergency funding to provide adequate assistance to care for the children, as well as resources for proper immigration proceedings.

“We are a proud nation of immigrants, and I will continue to push for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform.”

I was curious how this state would react if those kids did arrive. Would people protest their entry as they have in other cities? Or would they remember Washington’s proud history of welcoming people who flee danger in their native countries?

As Sunday’s guest column by former Washington Gov. Dan Evans made so clear, the U.S. has experienced its fair share of  immigration crises. He reminded readers that local churches and community groups responded in droves when the first wave of Vietnamese refugees arrived in the state after the fall of Saigon in 1975. Evans, a Republican, expressed his dismay with politicians of both parties who’ve failed to step up to what he views as their moral responsibility. He tells the story of one refugee couple in particular who rebuilt their lives from nothing, named one of their children Evans, and sent all six of their children on to college and successful careers:

The Nguyens are a stellar example of the success of our Vietnamese immigration program. Washington state has the third-largest Vietnamese population in the U.S., behind California and Texas. I’m exceedingly proud of the volunteer sponsors, support organizations and legislators who welcomed these productive new citizens to our state.

But that was 40 years ago. What should we do today about immigration?

First, receive the children fleeing from repression in Central America the same way we welcomed refugees from Vietnam 40 years ago.

Second, the U.S. House of Representatives should debate and pass its version of an immigration bill, which the U.S. Senate has already done. It is unconscionable to delay just because the issue is politically uncomfortable.

Then the House and Senate should meet promptly in conference to attempt to reach agreement on a comprehensive reform proposal.

Third, Congress should adopt rules that would allow highly educated foreign students to remain in the United States after graduating from U.S. colleges and universities, instead of requiring them to return home. These bright young graduates could help fill increasing worker shortages for high-tech jobs.

Fourth, our foreign-aid program should add a mini-Marshall Plan for Mexico and Central America. After World War II, the Marshall Plan reinvigorated a devastated Europe and helped immensely to create a peaceful and prosperous continent.

If the U.S. helped Central American nations build strong, free economies and working democracies, and treated Mexico as a true economic partner, the surge northward of desperate refugees would slow to a trickle. It would be an investment far more productive than a barbed wire-encrusted barrier that screams “STAY OUT.”

Election years offer a chance for politicians to bring up extreme positions to get votes, but knee-jerk efforts to shoo away children should grate on all of us. History ought to shine a dim light on those who take an ideological viewpoint on the humanitarian crisis at the border. The undocumented immigrants in question are innocent children, yet some urging deportation describe them as gang members and possible carriers of disease. As if this had something to do with Ebola.

The result? A good number of Democratic and Republican governors have been reluctant to help or have outright refused, as documented in news reports by USA Today and The Washington Post among others.

Most galling in my view is this statement by Republican Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter in a preemptive letter to the federal government, just in case it was considering whether to send those children to his state:

“It should be understood that the State of Idaho and its subdivisions will not be actively involved in addressing the humanitarian crisis the federal government has created. Idaho will not open itself to the unwelcome challenges with which other states have struggled at the federal government’s hands.”

That’s right, kids. Fend for yourselves. Because the adults in this country already have enough problems. Your  fear of being killed or forced into a gang is none of our concern, even if the root causes of those problems are linked to U.S. foreign policy.

If there were a modern-day governor of the same stature as Dan Evans, that person would probably be Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts. The Democrat was the first governor to advocate for the immigrant children after they began crossing into the U.S. Patrick’s emotions were visible as he called upon his fellow citizens to show compassion for children sent by their parents on long arduous journeys to escape from violence.

Watch WBUR’s raw video of that press conference:

Despite polls showing Massachusetts residents are opposed to housing the kids and Tuesday’s news that no other bases would be considered for temporary housing, MassLive.com reports Patrick said he was proud of his state’s “willingness to help.”

Other leaders should be so brave. This border crisis is not over.

Comments | Topics: border crisis, butch otter, dan evans

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