The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Let immigrant children stay in N.C., instead of forcing them to leave

They come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. They flee extreme poverty, drug violence and sexual abuse. They have traveled hundreds of miles through sweltering heat and dangerous terrain in search of a haven far away from the troubles back home.

And North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory doesn’t want them in our state.

Federal immigration officials have placed roughly 1,200 unaccompanied children, who crossed into the U.S. illegally, with sponsors in North Carolina over the last year while awaiting hearings on their residency status. McCrory and other critics of this move have voiced concerns that sponsors haven’t been properly vetted, that social services and schools can’t handle the additional people and that the children pose a public health risk.

Despite these issues, which have been greatly exaggerated by critics, we have an obligation to the children to help them and allow them into our state, at least until they have an opportunity to present their case for permanent residency in court.

Many of the children who have made their way to North Carolina are escaping extreme circumstances in their home countries.

Stacie Blake, the director of government and outreach at the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, which partially operates in North Carolina, told The News & Observer that 95 percent of the girls in the program were raped before reaching the U.S.

“It is important to see the context of why the children are coming here,” said sophomore José Oliva, coordinator of Roads to College and an immigrant from Guatemala himself, in an email interview with The Guilfordian. “A lot of them are leaving their countries because (of) crime and gangs. They often have two options: stay and die, or leave and try to survive.”

One issue McCrory brought up at a press conference on Aug. 5 is that children are being placed with sponsors who haven’t had proper background screenings.

“I feel very strongly that these children could be put in more harm’s way than the conditions in which they came from,” said McCrory.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the agency runs background checks on sponsors and home studies for households where safety is questionable before a child is placed.

“Under the law, we have a legal responsibility to place children in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child,” said Kevin Wolfe, a spokesperson for the DHHS, to The News & Observer.

This usually means placing the child with a family member or, if that is not possible, another person the child knows. In almost any case, the situation is still better than what many children are fleeing in their home countries.

Other critics have said that allowing children into North Carolina will burden both public school districts and state social services.

“These 1,200 kids break down to 12 kids per county in North Carolina,” said Dani Moore, director of immigrants’ rights with the North Carolina Justice Center, in an interview with The Asheville Citizen-Times. “To say we cannot accommodate the number of endangered students is just ridiculous.”

Additionally, because the children are not citizens, they will not receive most social services provided by the government such as food stamps. In fact, they will qualify for little more than some emergency Medicaid benefits and public school enrollment.

Another oft-repeated chorus from critics of placing children with sponsors in NC is that the children are a potential threat to public health especially when vaccination records aren’t available.

However, according to the DHHS’s website, all children are screened for potential health problems when they arrive at an Office of Refugee Relocation facility.

“As a precaution, ORR is providing vaccinations to all children who do not have documentation of previous valid doses of vaccine,” said the website.

McCrory’s criticisms, which seem to be prone to hyperbole, are far outweighed by the needs of the children. In addition, they appear to be motivated by a desire to position himself as a hardliner on immigration policy rather than on a need to do what is best for the children.

“Governor McCrory is sending a clear message that immigrants, even children who are fleeing violence, are unwelcome in North Carolina,” said Angeline Echeverría, executive director of El Pueblo Inc., in a media statement on Aug. 5. “Instead of presenting proactive strategies for effective immigrant integration, the Governor continues to waste state resources by focusing his time and energy on this media campaign to criticize federal authorities.”

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