Split board OKs resolution on immigrant children

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Rowan County commissioners voted 3-2 Monday night to adopt a resolution calling on the federal government to stop allowing undocumented immigrants to stay in the country, including children who come to the United States alone.
Chairman Jim Sides and commissioners Chad Mitchell and Mike Caskey voted to support the resolution, while Vice Chairman Craig Pierce and Commissioner Jon Barber opposed it.
Although the resolution — which did not originated in Rowan County — was not given a public hearing, it got one anyway, with most of the speakers during the board’s regular public comment period addressing it. Seven people spoke against the resolution and two in favor of it.
The issue of children crossing the border has been highlighted recently.
From October to June, more than 57,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, have been caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
By law, unaccompanied child immigrants from countries that don’t border the United States must be handed over to the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours of being detained. The government is responsible for caring for the children until they are united with a relative or sponsor in the U.S. while waiting for immigration court hearings to proceed.
The number of unaccompanied youth immigrants crossing the border alone has declined from about 2,000 per week in June to 500 per week in mid-July, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Federal officials cautioned that high summer temperatures typically result in a decrease in border crossings.
Up to 90,000 child immigrants could cross the border by the end of September, federal officials have said.
Speakers opposing the resolution described awful conditions the children are fleeing — and their parents are sending them away from — in their native countries. Ted Goins, president and CEO of Lutheran Services Carolinas, said “many have suffered human trafficking and horrific abuse or otherwise are faced with death.”
Lutheran Services is known locally for its assisted living center and Trinity Oaks senior community, but it also operates adoption, foster and refugee services throughout the Carolinas and is caring for about 60 of those children now with expectations to care for more, Goins said.
He asked the commissioners to split the resolution into two: one addressing the political issue of illegal immigration and one the humanitarian issue of the children.
The Rev. Rhodes Woolly, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, made the same argument. He said that while immigration policy needs to be corrected, “We can’t build a new firehouse and put out a burning building at the same time.”
“Without doubt, what’s before us is a humanitarian crisis,” Woolly said. He estimated that if the number of children expected to arrive in the U.S. were evenly distributed across the country, Rowan County would be asked to house 18.
Other opponents of the resolution quoted scripture or argued commissioners have no place adopting such a document because immigration is a federal issue.
Resolution supporter Larry Wright countered the scriptural argument by saying Jesus “made provisions for children. He gave primary responsibility for care of those children to parents.”
“We would not think of shipping our children to another country,” Wright said. “If a country cannot control its border, then it cannot remain a country for very long.”
Sides, who put the resolution on the board’s agenda, said that while he does not oppose immigration and has helped immigrants get their citizenship, “I personally am opposed to illegal immigration.”
“This is not a humanitarian issue,” he said. “It is a political issue. I wish it were not.”
The resolution originally was on the board’s consent agenda, a list of items voted on together without discussion, but Barber asked that it be moved to the business agenda. He argued commissioners have “more important things to do” than debate a resolution that has no bearing on counties’ obligations to children under state and federal laws.
“So when these children show up, we have no option but to help these children,” he said.
Mitchell agreed the county has to help the children already here — and implying it doesn’t want to “gives me a little heartburn” — and asked to amend the resolution to oppose any additional children who enter the country illegally being resettled in Rowan. His amendment was adopted.
Caskey, who made the motion to adopt the amendment, said the board was just sending a message that “we want to stop this before they get here.”
“We’re not passing a law,” he said. “We’re just telling our representatives we want them to enforce a law that’s already there.”
Pierce said the federal government “knows their responsibility” and he didn’t see the purpose of the resolution.
“This is going to accomplish nothing. … I think it’s a waste of time,” he said. “To me, we’re setting a precedent that says we’re all about responsibility, we’re not about compassion, and I just can’t vote for it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.