It didn’t take long for the feelings about the current immigration crisis to be known Monday night.
Following a presentation to the board by Commissioner Larry Phillips on the issue, board Chair Eddie Harris summed up the sentiment concisely.
“The United States government is complicit in human trafficking,” he said.
Phillips brought the issue before the board following an Aug. 4 phone call that included representatives from the White House, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security.
He said what he learned was “deeply disturbing.”
Phillips told the board that officials on the phone call identified three nations, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, that were the primary sources of the undocumented children crossing into the United States.
“The Homeland Security guys acknowledged that a smuggling ring is controlling it, and 55 percent of the kids showing up have a sponsor,” Phillips said. “But that word is misleading. A sponsor can be a friend, relative, or simply a name and address written on a piece of paper. And 45 percent of them don’t even have that.”
The undocumented children are presenting health, safety and oversight issues, he added.
“How are we going to protect these children? Are they going to become victims of sex trafficking? Are they carrying viruses?” Phillips said. “I don’t feel like these concerns are misplaced. If a child comes here carrying a serious disease, without any oversight of their health and welfare, there’s nothing we can do about it until someone gets sick.”
“I agree wholeheartedly,” Harris said. “This has a direct impact on our infrastructure, foster care, health and safety systems, and the list goes on and on.”
Harris said he believes the immigration issue is “the defining issue of our generation.”
He said he lays the blame squarely at the feet of the federal government.
“This nation has been begging our government to secure our borders and they have failed to do so,” he said. “The rule of law on this issue has collapsed in this country, and it’s time for the American people to stand up and demand otherwise.”
Phillips said in the end it will be up to the localities to foot the bill.
“It is self-evident that the (federal) administration knows that the counties are going to be forced to fund this crisis,” he said. “This will continue to be a problem that county governments across the country will face.”
After some discussion on the matter, the board is expected to approve letters and resolutions to be sent to the North Carolina governor, the governments of the three countries and local federal legislators during their next meeting.
The letters to the countries will ask them to increase enforcement of human trafficking laws or face boycott of their products.
In addition, the board will draft a letter to the National Association of Counties asking them to “step up and call on the federal government to enforce border laws.”
The board will also begin receiving regular updates from county department heads on how the issue is affecting their departments.
Keith Strange can be reached at 336-415-4698 or via Twitter @strangereporter.