Uninvited guests

Published 11:21 am Saturday, June 21, 2014

Political analysts have cited the debate over immigration reform as one of the major reasons House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost his seat in Congress after being defeated in the Republican primary to political newcomer and college economics professor Dave Brat. And if that wasn’t enough to bring the contentious issue back to the forefront of our national dialogue, the dust-up in Brunswick County this past week certainly should be.

For those who are unfamiliar with the situation, the Department of Health and Human Services entered into an agreement with the now-defunct St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville to house as many as 500 illegal, underage immigrants in its vacant student housing facilities.

Federal officials signed a contract with the college on June 12 without any discussion with, or making any notification to, local officials. The plan was to begin housing the children as soon as June 19, but that was before the community learned of the plan and hit the roof. On Thursday night, a public hearing with HHS officials at Brunswick County High School drew 1,000 mostly irate residents, and on Friday the department announced it had pulled the plug on the project.

Almost everyone involved, including HHS officials, recognize and admit that the way the situation was handled was fraught with mistakes. But a discussion solely revolving around how we decide to house illegal immigrants misses the point. What should be discussed is whether we should be housing them at all.

American policymakers have been kicking the can of immigration reform down the road for years, and we are reaping the benefits of their inability to lead on the issue today. Since October, 47,000 unaccompanied minors have been caught entering our country illegally. And that number only includes those that have crossed our southern border. Federal officials believe the number could reach as high as 90,000 for the year. The associated costs to house and care for the detainees will certainly skyrocket as well.

It is not an easy issue to come to terms with, given the fact that many of these children are fleeing the unspeakable poverty and violence of their homelands. But the fact remains that many more come here because we have set a precedent for turning a blind eye on illegal immigration, and believe that once here they will be allowed to remain. Unfortunately, we have done little to prove them wrong.

The current VA scandal, in which it was learned that tens of thousands of our own veterans have been made to wait to get medical care or, immeasurably worse, died before they received it, is a tragedy and a national embarrassment. It’s also a reminder that we are a long way away from having our own house in order. Perhaps it’s time for us to get it straightened up before turning down the covers for any more uninvited guests.

Tony Clark is publisher of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187 or tony.clark@tidewaternews.com.