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Monday, Oct 20, 2014
Tom Jackson Columns

Border crisis arrives; will commissioners flinch?

Published:

As irritating as the mess on America’s southern border has been, it was easy enough here in Florida to be regarded in the abstract. The surge of illegal immigrants from Central America, most of them unaccompanied minors, was Texas’ problem, and Arizona’s. Then we learned of Washington’s relocation program, and suddenly it wasn’t just a problem for the Southwest; the squawking expanded to Oklahoma and Colorado and Massachusetts and Maryland and beyond.

Now it’s our turn.

Doing its part to help carry out administration wishes, Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services is seeking permission from Pasco County to double the number of beds, to 32, at its Darlington Road shelter in Holiday, where it has been helping illegal immigrant youngsters locate and reunite with nearby kinfolk — a primary goal of U.S. immigration policy for the last half-century, often at the expense of welcoming newcomers whose education and skills would enhance and strengthen the American fabric.

It’s worth noting this reunification is sought without regard to the immigration status of the resident family, a nonsensical arrangement that isn’t lost on American citizens being asked to bear the tax burden for Washington’s perverse preference.

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Replicating scenes from around the country where, despite their distance from the Rio Grande, the crisis came suddenly into sharp focus, alarm shot through the Holiday shelter’s neighborhood. Two doors down, Patricia Oliveira lamented to the Tribune’s Laura Kinsler that the newcomers were unaffordable, that they’d wind up “getting free health insurance, free food stamps and free schooling,” none of which is “fair to us.”

Governors on both sides of the political aisle have expressed precisely the same concerns to the Obama administration. Meanwhile, the Republican-led House of Representatives is drafting emergency legislation even as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat distinguished by her reliable seriousness, has pointed out it is within President Obama’s authority to order a regulatory rewrite to cope with “exceptional circumstances.”

That assumes, of course, the administration is eager to curtail the surge. More likely, its tepid response is a cynical calculation intended to push Republicans into accepting an immigration reform package that would infuriate their base ahead of the midterm elections.

Back here in Pasco, the request by Jewish Family reflects not only an expansion, but a radical change from its original purpose: housing and caring for elderly disabled people. In 2005, county commissioners provided $420,000 in community block grant funds for the construction of two such facilities.

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In June, the organization converted its Holiday shelter to sort of a halfway house for Central American immigrant boys ages 8 to 17. The repurposing fits with the agency’s commitment to aid youthful refugees, and county staff recommended approval of the change. But county staffers aren’t subject to the ire of constituents. Commissioners, who are, tabled the matter until early August, ostensibly to study whether the plan squares with the original grant proposal, but also, no doubt, to take the public’s temperature.

With public opinion running nearly 60 percent against the president’s handling of the border crisis, it’s hard to imagine local residents celebrating a move that would make integration of our latest uninvited guests any easier, particularly when we send, in total, well more than $200 million annually to the countries — Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador — currently gushing children in our direction.

Well. We can decry all we want Washington’s ongoing failure to secure our southern border, but it’s here in our collective backyard where federal rubber hits the taxpayer’s road. Agreeing to expand the shelter on Darlington Road will say, at some level, in the matter of America’s vanishing national sovereignty, Pasco’s commissioners are willing co-conspirators.

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