DOBSON — Human trafficking, an issue one member of the Surry County Board of Commissioners called “morally wrong, reprehensible and inexcusable,” is happening all around us, and the board took action Tuesday night to do what it can to ease the situation.
Recently, news outlets from areas like Charlotte, Burlington, Greensboro and Durham have reported arrests related to the trafficking of illegal immigrants.
“In my hand are newspaper articles that pretty much highlight the reality of this problem,” Commissioner Larry Phillips said. “For me to sit here as an elected official and pretend this is never going to occur in Surry County, that’s a leap of faith I’m not willing to take. It’s morally wrong, it’s reprehensible, it’s inexcusable and it’s all around us.”
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.”
Following the prior meeting, the board agreed to draft strongly-worded resolutions and/or letters to the North Carolina Association of Counties, the governments of the three countries and representatives of state and federal government urging, or more to the point demanding, they take action to remedy the situation of face potential boycott of products developed in the offending countries.
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.”
It is an move recent Texas transplant Bill Tweddell of Elkin said needed to be taken.
“I firmly encourage the passage of these resolutions, unanimously if possible,” he said.
Tweddle said he considers the presence of orphans from other countries a “tragic condition,” but notes the current crisis comes at a “crucial time in our history.”
“America is a geographic region marked by borders, and is to be governed by the idea that a man may own his own time and labor,” he said. “”Our laws and structure are based on that idea.”
The flood of illegal immigrants, he said, will stress an already-over-stressed infrastructure and limit his pursuit of happiness.
“There is an assumption that all these people are coming here to pursue the idea of liberty and happiness,” he said. “It’s more likely they’re here to drain our happiness and liberty by benefiting from programs I’m forced to fund.
“For our federal government to fail in its border duty is the same thing as inviting a civilian army into our country,” Tweddle added. “Only by rejecting the invading army of civilians can our government and way of life prosper. I don’t know how far (the board of commissioners’) power extends, but I would encourage you to do what you can.”
After reading the resolutions into the record, the four resolutions passed unanimously.
Keith Strange can be reached at 336-415-4698 or via Twitter @strangereporter.