Immigration is a complex problem. So is the long-term question of how the United States should handle the influx of tens of thousands of children from Central America. Beyond the legal mandates, we owe them basic human decency. On the other hand, to say that they should all simply stay here for good begs big questions about encouraging more children to make this journey, and the rights of all the people abroad who are waiting their turn in line.
But there’s a short-term question that’s not hard to answer at all: Where should the 57,000 children who are already here go? The answer is: Every state should be raising its hand and offering to take some of them. This is not a border-state problem. It is not up to Texas and Arizona to carry this load just because they’re the first places the children land. States in the Northeast and the Midwest can take some of these kids too. Yet some states are looking only for excuses to say no. This NIMBY response is the worst kind of hypocrisy, especially coming from supposedly liberal blue states.
Instead of showing some heart, my governor, Dannel Malloy, is looking heartless and feckless. Asked by the Obama administration to temporarily house 2,000 immigrant children at a nearly vacant training school in the town of Southbury, Conn., Malloy said no. “We don’t currently have the ability to meet this request,” a spokesman claimed.
Malloy’s administration says Southbury is too small and decrepit. Never mind that the federal government would pay for getting the facility ready for the children and for upkeep. The real reason is politics: Malloy is in a battle for re-election with Republican candidate Tom Foley.
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On the Cowardly Governors list with Malloy: Terry Branstad of Iowa, a Republican. Branstad too expressed “empathy” for the immigrant kids and then said no to taking any children, even as a facility for at-risk youth was readying a 48-bed unit. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, scrapped a proposed site in his state without coming up with another alternative.
There are some brighter spots. Mayor Stephanie Miner of Syracuse, N.Y., wrote a letter to President Obama offering to “welcome these children.” San Francisco voted to fund legal and mental health services and housing. Government and church officials in Santa Clara County, in California’s South Bay, are on board, too. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is organizing local charities and agencies to respond, and asked the right question: “What’s our role as human beings?”
Among governors, Chris Christie of New Jersey says his empathy extends to considering “every request that comes based on its merits.” We’ll see if that translates into action. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts has found two sites that could host 1,000 children, ages 3 to 17. Peter Shumlin of Vermont says he is looking at sites, in response to a request from HHS.
The state and local officials who step up to give (temporary, paid-for) shelter to these kids are the ones acting like public servants. Spread among the 50 states, these children are surely manageable. If you live in a blue state and you’ve ever shaken your head over anti-immigrant sentiment in the red states at the border, this is your moment. Tell your local and state leaders to be brave.