Migrant Children: Humanitarian Dilemma or Terrorist Health Threat?
Let no crisis go to waste. And if it isn't truly a crisis, talk it up as though it is and ride that sucker all the way home to the voting booth -- or the bank.
That's the strategy of the right-wing populists of the Tea Party, whose Palm Beach County branch next week welcomes self-appointed immigration expert Dennis Michael Lynch, warning of (all-caps) "A MAJOR PANDEMIC" and "JIHAD COMING TO THE UNITED STATES."
Bunk. Local officials and activists working directly with migrant children placed in Palm Beach County say the kids are being processed and public health safeguarded. And the federal government has a well-organized set of programs in place to deal with the new wave. (Out of some 60,000 who've entered the U.S. in recent months, an estimated 3,000 have been placed in Florida.)
According to Kenneth Wolfe, of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families:
When children arrive at U.S. border stations, they are given a medical screening and, if needed, medical treatment... They are given a well-child exam and given all needed childhood vaccinations to protect against communicable diseases. They are also screened for tuberculosis and receive a mental health exam... If it is determined that children have certain communicable diseases or have been exposed to such communicable diseases, they are placed in a program or facility that has the capacity to quarantine. Children with serious health conditions are treated at local hospitals. The cost of this care is fully paid by the federal government.
(The chief piece of evidence put out by the xenophobes to support their "pandemic" claims actually indicates the feds are, in fact, identifying and treating the migrant kids with medical issues. Chicken pox appears to be the big bad wolf.)
Jill Skok, of the Guatemalan-Maya Center in Lake Worth, which is assisting about 60 kids placed with family in Palm Beach County, found the "terrorist" claims absurd.
"These kids are running to immigration," she told New Times. "They're not trying to sneak in. They're trying to get caught and to go through the process... Anyone who would meet any of the kids who come for daily English classes -- they are incredibly gentle kids. Some of them have left their country to save their lives. They're here to learn. We ask them, and they say they want to be educated, to live a better life."
The Palm Beach County School District is also preparing for the influx. According to media rep Natalia Powers, the agency is "working with community organizations to establish a strong network to provide the services needed... If we don't have the necessary personnel, that's when the community partnerships come in.
"Like any other new student, they have to go through a series of wellness and health requirements," Powers told New Times. "If they don't have, let's say, immunization records, the county health department comes into play. If they need a physical exam, we work with the community organizations. We're concerned for the well-being of all our students."
The migrant kids' immigration status will ultimately be determined by the courts and the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement. The feds have wavered on this, between enhanced access to refugee status on the one hand and a clampdown on the other.
Attorney and immigrant rights activist Aileen Josephs has been critical of the authorities' handling of the kids prior to deportation hearings. "We're being shut out," she said of her efforts to provide the children legal counsel. "We've provided community groups with names of attorneys willing to volunteer. The issue is finding them."
Joseph is critical of the immigrant-bashers too. "Creating an atmosphere of fear will only cause them to hide from the courts," she said.
Those working with the migrant kids said the so-called "crisis" is overblown and, in fact, a bit old hat.
"This isn't new to our school district," Powers said. "Things around the world, like the Haiti earthquake, we're familiar with and will deploy the resources necessary."
"We welcomed the first wave of immigrants from Guatemala who fled warfare in their country 30 years ago," Skok said. "We're experienced... The numbers are new, but otherwise this is nothing new to us."
Tea Party hysteria aside, Skok said, the extended community's response has been "overwhelmingly positive."
"People are making donations of money and clothes, school supplies, helping with tutoring," she told New Times. "People are coming and reaching out to help. If anyone's opposed to it, I question how they've been impacted."
Organizations working to help the migrant children, in addition to the Guatemala Maya Center and Florida Voices for Immigration Reform, include Americans for Immigrant Justice and Catholic Legal Services.
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers South Florida news and culture. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.