Cynthia: Mike, do you agree with Pope Francis that the 57,000 migrant children at America’s southern border should be welcomed and protected?
Mike: Of course! I don’t believe anyone thinks they should be left out in the wilderness. But the Pope goes on to say that the countries from which they come need to straighten up and fly right, and that immigration must be both legal and secure. I agree with him there as well. Do you?
Cynthia: I agree with the Holy See. What confounds me is the reaction by political leaders to this humanitarian crisis. At the national level Republicans are unwilling to work with President Obama to implement and fund a law Congress unanimously passed in 2008 that gives unaccompanied minors rights to a due process hearing in order to determine their refugee status. The GOP obstruction seems geared solely in order to gain political points in an election year. And Democrats, frankly, haven’t answered the call, either.
Where’s the leadership when it comes to the health and welfare of children?
Mike: There is no leadership in Washington — a pox on both their houses! President Obama has shown no leadership in the legislative arena, immigration very much included. He simply dictates what he wants and then disengages, leaving Harry Reid to snipe at and goad Republicans. Meanwhile, Republicans are internally fractured and divided on the issue, which leaves them, and all potential progress, stuck in neutral. So now we have a crisis, and individual states are paying the price!
Cynthia: The president has made it loud and clear that immigration reform is a top priority and that he is ready to sign the bill passed in the U.S. Senate, or some lesser version that can pass in the House. But we don’t need a major overhaul of immigration laws to address the 57,000 kids at our southern border. A law was already passed under George Bush to do just that. What we need are the resources and political courage to implement it. Money for more judges, for instance, and people working together.
Mike: We can always do more with more, but eventually we run out of “more.” I think even Democrats can recognize that!
Cynthia: It’s not just Washington that has me peeved about this tragedy. Here in Maine, Gov. LePage embarrassed us again by publicly begrudging eight migrant kids who are sheltering in our state only because it conveniently provided an opening to repeat his campaign mantra about welfare reform. Is that who we are now? Dirigo no more?
Mike: Look, the eight children are a symptom of something larger: the disdain with which Washington treats states. Eight children may not have a measurable impact, but what about 80? Eight-hundred? Eight-thousand? At some point, it will have an impact on our already-stretched state budget. How can elected officials in Maine — regardless of party — make decisions if the federal government withholds information?
Cynthia: And who exactly is “withholding information?” I need more facts and fewer GOP talking points. The governor learned about the eight kids while participating in a conference call with the Obama administration, for God’s sake. No hard core sleuthing there. The fact is, Gov. LePage is out of the loop because he repeatedly misses regional meetings with other governors and snubs the White House at every turn.
Mike: Should we really judge a governor’s success by counting the number of meetings he or she has with other politicians? Let’s look at results: Gov. LePage has put together agreements to coordinate development efforts with New Brunswick and Quebec and work with the rest of New England to drive regional natural gas infrastructure. If he can do that without burning the travel budget, more power to him! He probably has saved enough to cover state costs for those eight children.
Cynthia: As far as cost, the federal government has committed to pay for the care of these kids escaping violence until they get a hearing. And even if it’s true that information about the eight children in Maine was kept under wraps, it could very well have to do with the environment of hateful rhetoric about “illegals” that Gov. LePage and other GOP hardliners have created. Reckless fomenting of division and resentment is apt to influence crackpots to do stupid things. We need someone to lead the people of Maine towards inclusion.
Mike: Counselor, the feds are broke! A promise to pay from them is like a check from your U.S. Senate campaign account. Besides, what are the second- and third-order effects after the court hearing if these children — most of whom are teenage boys — end up staying? Beyond the immediate costs, we need a growing economy to absorb the growth in the workforce. Leading toward inclusion is good, but leading to a stronger economy is even better.
Cynthia: Caring for poor and tired teenage boys and girls is fiscally responsible and will lead to a stronger economy. We can pay now or pay a lot more later. These kids are the huddled masses yearning to breathe free for whom the Statue of Liberty is lifting her lamp!
The Pope and the Lady get it. Unfortunately they are not on the ballot.