Columns » Ernest Dumas

Dangerous kids


COTTON: Arkansas doesn't want desperate immigrant children housed in the state, he and Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Bruce Westerman say.
  • COTTON: Arkansas doesn't want desperate immigrant children housed in the state, he and Sen. John Boozman and Rep. Bruce Westerman say.

It is a habit one must stop, opening the papers and online journals each morning looking desperately for solace from a whole year's unrelieved manifestations of hate arising from religious, racial, ethnic or simple cultural differences.

Is this what we have become, as your only spawn tells you, or have we always been this way, only now emboldened by the election of a leader who exults in letting go of civil restraints? It is not just the published news, but the daily conversations about slurs and taunts at school or the shopping malls and the epithets and gestures from passing cars that seem to be moved by old bumper stickers, new ones from the last election, or just familiarity.

This morning's news was no different. An off-duty Turkish cop slays the Russian ambassador at an Ankara art exhibit to avenge the deaths of Syrian Muslims from Russian bombs. A man shoots three Muslims at an Islamic worship center in Geneva. A man hijacks a truck and slaughters a dozen Christmas shoppers and injures four dozen more on the streets of Berlin, where the government, almost alone in Europe, has been hospitable to refugees from war and famine in the Middle East and Africa. Governments express horror and regret. All of us are either a little angrier or a little sadder. After Jan. 20, the chief executive promises to up the ante. What will he do when an explosive somewhere around the world rips a resort or a tower with his name emblazoned in five-story letters? Drop the big one?

It is better to just follow the local news, far from the madding crowd in peaceful Arkansas, where legislators are assembling with no worse designs than to just punish gay, lesbian and transgender people or give businesses license to do it; women who want to end pregnancies; or blacks, immigrants or other poor people who might be getting access to too much medical care.

But my attention was called to a statement released recently by half of Arkansas's congressional delegation — Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman and Rep. Bruce Westerman — telling President Obama's Health and Human Services Department that Arkansas does not want any desperate immigrant children housed in Arkansas, not even for a few days until homes can be found for them. They explained that Arkansans are terrified of brown-skinned kids.

They don't frighten me, but I don't live around Royal, the rural community west of Hot Springs where the children would be temporarily housed at the old Civilian Conservation Corps camp that was home to unemployed young men during the Great Depression and a Job Corps site for aimless young men in modern times. Since the Labor Department closed the Job Corps program the camp has been vacant.

Health and Human Services has talked about using the old Job Corps barracks to house children from Latin America who have crossed the border in search of refuge from the gangs, sexual predation and desperate life in lawless regions of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. When unaccompanied kids get into the United States, they are taken to such shelters until permanent homes are found, usually with relatives. That is usually 35 or fewer days.

But Cotton, Boozman and Westerman said the government was being irresponsible in telling Arkansans to have the kids only a few miles away, even for a few weeks.

"The potential risk to public safety is enormous," the brave Congress members said. Find a more suitable use for the abandoned wooded facility than desperate children, they said.

It had not occurred to me before today that we had become such a fearful people that lonely children, unarmed ones to boot, would be a threat to community harmony. During the last big war, Arkansas housed thousands of Japanese Americans from the West Coast whom the FBI declared to be a fifth column of terrorists, although the governor at the time said they had to be kept behind fences and not allowed to work in Arkansas businesses. CCC camps of restless young men were actually welcomed and very popular in spite of the occasional rogues. But, of course, they were all white.

I take heart from the fact that three members of the delegation — Reps. French Hill, Steve Womack and Rick Crawford — did not sign the alarm about Hispanic children in our midst, but perhaps I give them too much credit. Royal is not in their district and perhaps none of their business.

I close with this distressing lament: Where is good old Mike Huckabee when we need him? When he was governor, immigrant kids had a champion. He knew and could recite all the verses of the Bible about welcoming aliens and suffering the little children. He arranged a Mexican consulate for Little Rock to help beleaguered Hispanics and tried to get the legislature to make undocumented kids eligible for scholarships and exempt from out-of-state tuition.

To answer my own question, Huckabee is with Trump, or was, until the president-elect didn't offer him a federal job that suited his credentials.

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