The Surry County Board of Commissioners is expected to pass strongly-worded resolutions Tuesday night urging the federal government, and several Central American governments, to enforce their immigration laws.
The issue, which yielded terse discussion during the board’s August 18 meeting, came to light following a conference call attended by Commissioner Larry Phillips featuring representatives from the White House, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security.
Phillips told the board during the earlier meeting that what he learned was “deeply disturbing.”
He 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.”
Board chair Eddie Harris said he agreed.
“This has a direct impact on our infrastructure, foster care, health and safety systems, and the list goes on and on,” he said.
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.”
When it meets Tuesday night, 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 resolutions read in part that the county board calls on the Central American governments to pass “comprehensive anti-trafficking laws prohibiting forced labor, increasing its governments investigation, prosecutions and convictions of human trafficking including forced labor crimes and forced prostitution of adult victims, and to increase its local law enforcement resources to ensure the safety of its most vulnerable population.”
The resolution to the federal government reads in part:’
“… the Surry County Board of Commissioners, meeting in regular session, do hereby urge its government to uphold the laws of the land, cease any practices that would encourage minors and adults fleeing to this country for economic reasons, expand from contiguous jurisdictions immediate removal of any applications while their case awaits a hearing, and refrain from any unaccompanied minors and adults in Surry County.”
The meeting is set to get under way at 6 p.m., in the Commissioner’s Meeting Room of the Surry County Government Center in Dobson.
Keith Strange can be reached at 336-415-4698 or via Twitter @strangereporter.