For months, 30,000 unaccompanied migrant children fleeing the poverty and violence of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have poured into the United States from Mexico. When they’re picked up by the border patrol, they’re taken to overcrowded U.S. processing centers where they are housed, sometimes for months, before their cases are addressed.
Alarmed by the influx, some Americans in border towns have accused the youths of carrying disease or being undercover gang members. As outrageous as that is, one can understand why people who live in Texas towns might be tempted to believe such claims, even though the immigrants undergo medical screening and background checks.
But in Harrisburg, almost 2,000 miles from the Mexican border, 21 Republican members of the state House are making alarmist noises in the wake of 386 young immigrants having been placed with Pennsylvania sponsors since the beginning of the year.
The legislators, including Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Cranberry, sent a letter Monday to the state’s congressional delegation warning that “a portion of these young people could be affiliated with criminal gangs.” Gov. Tom Corbett and five other Republican governors wrote to President Barack Obama last week, warning that the immigrants “will end up using the public schools, social services and health systems largely funded by the states.”
Holy Family Institute in Emsworth has agreed to take up to three dozen migrant youths, age 12 or younger, a decision that has generated low-level hysteria from some local residents.
Although the Catholic agency said the children would be schooled at the institute and have most of their recreation on campus, it still must contend with irrational fears in the community. Fortunately, other public leaders — including Bishop David Zubik, Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald — have spoken out to defend Holy Family’s humane initiative.
It may take nothing short of the agency’s example in actually working with the children to change the hearts and minds of some Pennsylvanians.