Friday, August 1, 2014

Ghost of the Mariel boatlift — Bart Hester raises alarm about immigrants coming to Arkansas

Posted By on Fri, Aug 1, 2014 at 2:30 PM

QUESTIONS: Bart Hester has them.
  • QUESTIONS: Bart Hester has them.
I'm surprised it's taken this long for an extremist Republican to score political points on the humanitarian crisis on the Texas border, where immigration authorities are coping with a flood of children from Central America seeking refuge.

Back-bench Republican Sen. Bart Hester of Cave Springs has filled the gap with a letter to Gov. Mike Beebe asking whether there are any plans to bring immigrants to Arkansas.

Said Beebe spokesman Mat DeCample:

"There has been no discussion about any large-scale placement of any children in Arkansas." He said the governor's office has known — and it's been reported for several weeks — that there have been some "individual sponsored placements" in Arkansas — 166 since Jan. 1.  A website tracks these children. They were placed with parents, relatives or friends from home countries already in Arkansas. They receive health screenings and vaccinations and are not placed if contagious, DeCample said.

DeCample said the state would like better federal communication with state agencies — Human Services and the Health Department — that might have to intervene in behalf of well-being of the children. He said it appeared that "lines of communication" had been improving.

Otherwise, it's hard to know what prompted Hester's outburst other than opportunism. His voice mailbox is full and I've been unable to get a response to questions. 

Shades of Fort Chaffee and its historic role housing Cuban and Vietnamese refugees, often to the great discomfort of many in Arkansas. Lady Liberty's lamp at our golden door was snuffed out when their people entered, apparently.

Hester professes concern immigrants might be placed in states without knowledge or consent of governors or legislators. (Funny, I didn't know legislatures controlled passage over state borders.) Because what the children have had to do is "horrifying," Hester says — in something of a non sequitur — that our borders must be secured.

He wants to know if immigrants are being placed in Arkansas; if so, how many; what steps are being taken to secure locations "in terms of both safety and public health," and contacts, if any, between the state and federal government. He said he'll have more questions and will schedule hearings as vice chairman of the Interim Committee on Children and Youth.

This development comes as U.S. House Republicans debate how far they want to go in resisting administration efforts to cope with the flood of children. Machine gun nests, maybe? THAT would prevent an influx of Central American cooties into Arkansas.

I'd send Hester to Ronnie Floyd, megachurch pastor to many Republican faithful in Northwest Arkansas and leader of the Southern Baptist Convention. Having seen the situation on the border firsthand, he's offered some counsel. I can't quarrel with his very first suggestion, which doesn't make its way to Hester's bill of particular concerns.

Love the immigrant

The Gospel of Jesus Christ moves me to call on all of us to demonstrate compassionate action toward the immigrant. In this humanitarian crisis on the border of Texas, the children need immediate attention that elevates their health and safety above all. From my point of view, the children must become our number one priority.

These children are someone's children and someone's grandchildren. They are people, real people. Their parents, along with other children who are crossing our unprotected borders, are trying to better their lives and futures.

Yes, they should respect the rule of law, but now that they are here, we need to respect the God-given dignity of each of them.

He recommends verses from the 25th chapter of Matthew. Me, too.


Here's Hester's letter.

UPDATE: I asked Hester several questions by e-mail, including what prompted his concern about children being placed in Arkansas. He answered none of the specific questions, but he said this:

I am glad we agree that the children are the priority.

The ones in US custody are the lucky few.

I'm concerned as you for the many who are forced into human trafficking.

We have to secure the border for the children not fortunate enough to be caught by the good guys.

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