By Lynn R. Mitchell
[I live Facebooked Wednesday night’s Augusta County supervisor meeting and have cross-posted the immigrant children public hearing here.]
5:50 I arrived at the Augusta County Government Center at 5:50 for tonight’s 7:00 supervisors meeting and people were already in the parking lot. I’m hunkering down for the long haul with two controversial issues on the agenda: immigrant children and gas pipeline.
6:30 Room is full and partition has now been opened. Lots of familiar faces on all sides of the issues.
7:00 Meeting has been called to order. Estimate 140 people in the room. Regular agenda attended to; pipeline public hearing held first (see separate post).
7:55 Chairman Wills is announcing 20 people have signed up to speak to the immigration children issue; hold comments to less than 5 minutes per person, 10 minutes for someone representing a group.
First up is Ed Long, head of the Shenandoah Valley Tea Party Patriots. Crowd is pro and con — about 120 people still in the room at conclusion of pipeline public hearing. He has information from Corey Stewart in Prince William County who has been an advocate against illegal immigrants in his community. He says his group insists of the supervisors to do two actions: 1) Shenandoah Valley juvenile center house minors only (?). I don’t follow on this one – I thought that’s who was there. 2) Make a long-term effort to expand number of participants that are used by Shenandoah detention center to fill the facility and bring contract with government to an end with Augusta County.
8:00 Next speaker is discussing diseases from the children; our country is bankrupt and cannot afford them.
8:05 Next up is Sue Ward with tea party who is frustrated with the border issue and doesn’t like the contract the county has with the federal government.
8:10 Speaker now before the board is against. Said he doesn’t want illegal aliens in the local facility.
8:15 Wife of head of Augusta County Constitution Party is against.
8:20 Richard Armstrong is against. He just called out Supervisor Karaffa because “he should know” since he’s in the medical field about the diseases coming out of South America. He talked with Supervisor Pyles earlier who told him the county is following the law. Armstrong says people were not notified of the contract with the government.
8:25 Next speaker – against. Telling about the delinquents crossing the border. Wants federal contract ended or not renewed
8:30 This speaker is for the children being kept in Augusta County. Said there has been fear-mongering and conclusions have been drawn that may not be true. These kids are afraid, she said … commends board for being strong Americans and thanked them.
8:35 Speaker is from Rockingham County (they partner with Augusta with the facility). Immigration system needs fixing but that will not be solved tonight. There are children who have escaped drug cartels and worse. Death squads in South America that people have tried to escape. Fleeing violence and persecution in those countries; some have been sent back, shot by death squads, and made their way back to America. Refugees from violence; 9-year-old girl had her throat slit and bike stolen. Speaker is resolved — we need to work together to solve this problem. These children need help.
8:40 Gentleman from El Salvador is speaking through an interpreter … he said it’s very worrisome the issue that happened in his country; left two of his own in his country; has never asked for benefits from government; children persecuted by gangs is very worrisome. They’re coming here to find some kind of refuge. Said he’s also here to support children in this community and across the country looking for safe haven; they are running away from gangs and are not gang members. I would like for members of the community to hear the stories of the children, he said. Thank you.
8:45 Next speaker has interpreter … was at gathering last Saturday (protest); saw the hate from people. “I’ve been here many years – 25 years – we’re not taking anything from anyone. I don’t know why people have so much hate.”
8:50 Mark Dougherty is against. Would like to see the county get out of contract with federal government and not engage in future contracts regarding housing. Diseases is an issue with him. Government agencies untruthful, evasive – urges caution when contracting with them; money is more trouble than it’s worth.
8:55 Next speaker from Rockingham County — against: 1 out of 5 illegal aliens have violent criminal records, she said. The issue will head her way and that’s why she’s here. President wants to grant citizenship to all and with that is voting rights. Political issue. Get rid of supporters of amnesty in Congress. Call up National Guard to protect border. Cut off all aid to countries like Mexico. Could be terrorists. Freeze financial accounts. Build secure border. They’re not refugees … they’re illegal aliens.
Head of local Constitution Party has camera set up filming the proceedings.
9:00 John Geary speaking – opposed to illegal aliens. Protests because no help for veterans, medicare for seniors is in danger. Diseases brought over. Is talking about measles tripling this year. Don’t use local facilities to aid and abet illegal behavior. No one doubts they are coming to a better life but breaking law. Oppose any future contract with federal government.
9:05 Next speaker is from Rockingham and is for. She’s a Christian and mother, she said. Heard an interview from a child at a detention center and a 4-year-old. She can’t imagine children that age with people she can or cannot trust with them. Parents must be desperate in a way she cannot imagine to send their children away. Would hope if her children had to go to Guatemala they would treat them with kindness and compassion. The Golden Rule is the absolute most important thing – would hope to treat these children exactly the way we would want our children to be treated.
9:10 Staunton resident is now up and for the children. The nation has a moral duty to those who live here and those attempting to immigrate; we need to control our borders. Both political parties are demagoguing it — he’s the son of a Goldwater Republican — some may have committed crimes and some are very ill. There’s a danger of diseases, he’s heard — he said the exact same things were said about his family 165 years ago when his family were part of 1 million people who left Ireland and came to America while 1 million more died in Ireland — the largest immigration in history. One was his great great grandfather John, unattended, with only his 10-year-old sister to travel with him; she died on the ship crossing; John wrapped her in blanked and had to dump her body into the ocean. John was interred on Ellis Island. Many Irish immigrants made the 2-3 month trip; many died on the voyage and after arriving due to infectious diseases. An awful lot of us in this room would not be here if those undesireable people had not made the perilous journey to America, he said. The children here have not committed crimes; they are in a dilemma we don’t understand. “Let the little children come unto me.” This is the land of opportunity — this is the place where every child has a chance.
9:15 Next speaker is in support of the children at the detention center. There’s an immigration issue but disagrees using children to extort our differences in political opinions.
9:20 Speaker in favor of the children. Said she has heard a lot of fearmongering tonight and things that are not “facts.” Not all American children are vaccinated so can’t blame breakout of measles and such on immigrant children. Children are walking into our country; do we tell them to go back? And if they don’t listen and keep walking in, do we shoot them? Who is consuming the drugs being sold by the drug cartels in South America, she asked. Many in America are consuming them. We are a compassionate nation.
9:25 Next speaker for the children. Apologized for the way she was dressed (jeans and tee shirt) — she was working with children all day. Moved here from OBX in 1982 (didn’t know anyone moved FROM there!) to attend college. She serves at-risk youth in Augusta County. Doesn’t know the Bible by heart but she’s out there serving; they are no worse than the ones here. Don’t make them feel like criminals when they’re not.
9:30 Next speaker supports the children. Has been to Central America and seen the conditions children are living in there. She would not return unless called by God; she’s seen the gangs; if it were her, she would run, too. We’re looking at children here in this situation, not adults. She wants to hear their stories. Said she read Supv Karaffa’s story about talking with the kids and what they had been through. In South America they live in trash dumps; six-year-olds are carrying wood 4-5 miles a day to help their families make it. The community needs to hear the kids’ stories and what they’re running from.
9:35 Young lady in support of refugee children. Wants to hear their stories.
9:40 Gentleman at podium is for the children. His father came to U.S. in 1940s from Bahamas but didn’t go back; he was undocumented. This gentleman was raised here with his siblings. He hears fear from those speakers who oppose the children. He’s that kid they are protesting tonight. (He’s 64 years old.) He thanks his father for coming to the U.S. When he hears stories about “those people” — he was the first black man to work in Post Office in Waynesboro and hear people talking about “those Mexican kids.” He has asked people in the community how they feel about the immigrant children here locally and not everyone is against. They said, “They are children.” He’s talked about the lack of work ethic for many American children as opposed to some immigrant children.
9:45 Next speaker has been to Guatemala several times. There is no income there — maybe $1200 a year, if they’re lucky. They live in 10′ x 10′ storage buildings with family of 8 living in them in Guatemala – can’t secure the building. Gangs are rampant. Just imagine you’re in your house with two kids and they’re underaged, can’t go out on their own but you’re incapable of escaping. Your kids will die if they stay there. You would send them even if it was on their own, hoping they find a better life.
9:50 Dave Neighbors’ friends, colleagues, two children are immigrants – we’ve heard about the problems tonight and justice and passion tonight. Very sympathetic to immigrants; has a bit of problem with the justice and compassion argument; people can’t find work so bringing more people in doesn’t help. Legal immigrants have come legally; let them stay illegally is not just or compassionate. Millions of Americans are struggling to make ends meet. Until these problems are dealt with effectively, bringing millions of people over the southern border is making people subject to gang violence, disease, and unemployment. Until we address these issues, we cannot be a part of continuing to bring them in.
9:55 Waynesboro resident speaking – lot that can be done in all areas of this issue. They are here in our community; how can we as a community, faith community both left and right — how can we come together to serve these children as we resolve the greater problems that are facing our country.
10:00 Rockingham County resident says no one is listening to the people. Bringing in millions of illegal immigrants; illegal is illegal. Economy, people out of work, who do we let die? Veterans? Senior citizens because they’re cutting medicaid? Fork out billions of dollars for these people and it’s coming from the American people. We’re paying it whether it’s local, state, or federal. We can’t absorb more including the children because there are many children in this country who are starving.
10:05 Next speaker is against … said she’s been touched tonight by those addressing this issue and especially touched by humanity of many. At same time it’s important to recognize the extent this is a manufactured political situation. Struck by the two who spoke with translators. Would like to see more assimilation into society. Would like to see written report of those who have flowed through the facility in the past. Community would be best served to terminate contract.
10:10 Speakers have finished … now County Manager Pat Coffield speaking.
Pat Coffield: Shenandoah Juvenile Center was created by the Commonwealth of Virginia and originally in 1972 included Albemarle, Augusta, Charlottesville, Waynesboro, Staunton, Rockingham, Harrisonburg. Through 70s and 80s, saw population steadily increase and it was overcrowded. Charlottesville and Albemarle split off and built their own. Early 2000 built current center to house 58 beds, male and female. Shortly thereafter General Assembly decided to begin returning some of the children to responsible family adults until they went to court instead of detaining them in centers. Numbers started falling; sent out invitation for other localities to use the facility; Rockingham was part of it; glut of spaces in Commonwealth because of the new rules. Social Services started placing “at risk” children whose parents have been arreested, etc, until a foster opportunity was available for the children. Have accepted chilren from other jurisdictions who have no space or facilities. Even with all that, they still found themselves with open beds – 25 to 30 at a time. Overhead for Augusta County was expensive; they looked for way to be good stewards of taxpayer money. Federal government went throughout country and said they needed space and offered to Augusta County. Rent space to federal government over five years ago for 30 beds.
Currently 29 children at the facility. Education 5 days a week for children; they’re in school more than local kids. Funding — it’s considerable from the federal government and it offsets local expenditures a good deal. If contract was terminated, the costs would be difficult to cover. Augusta County does not own the facility; it’s a state facility. Rockingham, Augusta, Harrisonburg children are using it plus government. Federal contract is a primary part of the economic upkeep of the facility. Commonwealth has dropped its financial support throughout the years. Superintendent Smith from the facility is here to address this issue.
Superintendent Tim Smith is now at the podium: He’s reiterating what he said at Monday’s staff brief: all children are screened within 24 hours of admittance and if they haven’t had immunizations, they get them. TB checks. Doctor 3x week to care for them; have been doing this 5 years 4 months; never TB, measles, mumps, etc in building in that time so it’s not been an issue. 99% of these children have already been in another facility so they get examined twice. Placed one child in Virginia; others went elsewhere. Deportation – 50% are assigned for deportation.
Now the Board members’ comments.
Supervisor David Karaffa: Saddened that so many spoke but left before this point in the evening. His family’s history – he’s 5th generation Italian-Slavic. His family came through Ellis Island and very poor. His family probably would not make standards now set by this country. Grateful they immigrated when they did — you came here, were held, name taken. A lot of this deals with federal policy – we need a secure border and a proper immigration process. To those folks who have currently no hope of coming to U.S. what do we leave them with? These are federal issues. Visited the detention center because it’s in his district. As an R.N. the children looked healthy (but thin). He talked with some of them and wrote about it. Who are we, he asked. Who are we as citizens of this country? He has seen an amazing hospitality in our area. These children broke the law but we have to obey the law that governs how they are returned and housed, and we will be respectful of them while they’re here. Demand reform of federal government but we can’t blame these kids for that. He referred to the words from the plaque on the Statue of Liberty — we don’t pick and choose who we want in this country; poem shows that we want those who are willing to add to the fabric of who we are in this country and make a better life for themselves. Reagan said we were a Shining City on a hill. We offer hope. People who don’t have hope are looking for that opportunity. “I would like to think we in Augusta County still believe in what that plaque says,” he noted. He supports how the county is handling this issue. If it involves renting to the federal government, so be it. We will take care of those who come here and we will follow the law. Continue the contract with the government.
Supervisor Jeff Moore: Facility was built as a regional facility to take care of local youth. At this point we don’t have that demand; management and board decided to look for outside help to generate revenue. Federal government filled that. He will continue to support the federal use of the facility.
Supervisor Carolyn Bragg: We have to recognize and appreciate that the board responsibly made decisions about the detention center. They understood their mission and their responsibility to the children of Augusta County. (She is speaking of the board before she was appointed earlier this year to replace the late David Beyeler.) Space is still available beyond that provided to government. It’s not the children’s fault; I cannot imagine the conditions these people live in that a parent would hand their child to a stranger to take them, hopefully, to safety. To send your child praying with every breath you have that your child will be cared for … the ones found are the lucky ones. They go to facilities and go through the process; they will be held until a hearing. Children sitting in corner of some ally in fear are in real danger. These local children are not going through garbage looking for something to eat, fearful of sleeping at night — these are the lucky ones. It’s a big issue because the border needs to be addressed. It’s our responsibility to care for them while they are here in Augusta County. What happens after that, let’s pray it’s in their best interest. These children deserve to have a little bit of comfort. I support housing them here in a humanitarian, respectful way.
Supervisor Tracy Pyles: It’s easier to talk with people when you’re on their side. If you know me I research things as they come up. Wilberforce Law: law supported by George W. Bush who called himself a compassionate conservative – it unanimously passed by senate. Two objections from GOP – Bob Goodlatte was not one of them — he supported the law. William Wilburforce was an abolitionist in 19th century – driven by Christian compassion. Had been raised in Church of England and wanted to do something about slavery. Got laws in place to abolish slavery. 1879 was the last time it was addressed … had to go back to that far for the model for the law – no one in recent times had stood up to stop slave/sex trafficking. There are always unintended consequences that aren’t seen at first. Congress didn’t think it through – reasons seemed absolutely justified when they passed it. If you come from one of these countries — not Mexico or Canada — but from other places they will get due process from U.S. Parents scrimped and scraped forever to send their children away — where they live is not like here, there is no education, they’re in a bad situation. Kids are looking for survival — it’s a heck of a thing — the human spirit to survive is unstoppable. They come into this system — the law was put in place — Bob Goodlatte helped create it. Tracy said he understands the concern of tea party people, but this is a unique situation. We have kids who are struggling, they are being put in our arms. We do it better in Augusta County than anywhere else. We hear a lot about religion but we all see it differently — my Christ hugs, looks out for the Lepers, goes to the prison, feeds the 5,000. He expressed disappointed a little by frustration of some folks; marvelous county with marvelous people. Was in high school in the 1960s — civil rights issues and massive resistance going on — Buffalo Gap High School integrated. It was peaceful, it was the right thing to do, and there was hardly any attention given to it. We have to work with people, we have to be what we want of others. Had a discussion with a conservative talking who said people aren’t optimistic anymore but now we think we aren’t getting our piece of the pie. Tracy says he’s an optimist; our country is good; unemployment is down to 4.6% — that kind of optimism is what drives our country and makes us better. Morning in America — Ronald Reagan was the eternal optimist. We can do it. Then he read the end of Reagan’s farewell speech … “I’ve spoke of the shining city all my political life”…. let’s not fight over meager crumbs — people want to come here because we’re so great; no one wants to break into North Korea. I support them and keeping the contract.
Supervisor Marshall Pattie: Department of Management at JMU – get people to work harder and stay with firms longer. A well-intended immigration policy with unintended circumstances — word got out that we have better education and hope on this side of the border. He was unaware of the issue until Monday – visited at detention center. Talked with them. Sex trafficking cases have gone through there, housed in that facility, can only imagine horror they’ve gone through. We need to be part of the solution. 50% of immigrants request deportation; that is what law says. Other 50% are put with relatives. First 2 years of the problem, what happened to those who passed through here. Is Augusta County part of solution or are we encouraging the problem? Won’t be able to solve locally … path of least resistance – hurdles in there; All immigrants should be treated equally. Cannot be addressed by this board. Hopefully there is now a better perspective. (Does he support keeping them? – didn’t say)
Supervisor Mike Shull: Saddens him that issues like this have to bring everyone out but we’re a democracy and we work through the process. Immigration has been ongoing problem for years. Daughter was doing report about Harding as President; two big issues during that administration were higher taxes and immigration. It’s never been fixed. Our government seems to be above the law; they can do anything they want to but at local level if we break law we’re punished. Federal govt doesn’t have anyone above them to tell them; they can do what they want. This situation here was put in place for American kids but they went around that agreement to use the system and until we can change their ideas and get them to abide by the law, its an ongoing process. If you look around the world, there’s a lot of other countries — Africa, communist countries — they suffer too — but there’s got to be a limit how many we can let come into this country because if we just open the borders, we won’t have a country. We look at rising cost of education; Medicaid, medicare, social security — we have a broken system about to go bankrupt. Where’s it going to be in 20 more years? Social Security was set up for working people to have a retirement plan. Those people who started out stated paying and as they got older the younger ones would pay for them but you can overburden the system. Low local unemployment but look at nation as a whole. We talk about the Bible and what’s there. In the end — Armageddon – there’s nothing said about America. Will we still exist at that time. If we continue down road we’re going, no we won’t. But right now we’ve got to work through this process — we have a contract with federal government — if board sees fit to change it, we’ll do so.
Chairman Larry Wills: This issue for me has been very difficult because I believe with all my heart the teachings that we’re supp0sed to take care of the poor. But I also believe in the process of the law. We have a contract, and I believe in living up to contracts. I own a business, I believe in living up to contracts. We have a contract for what we’re doing. In terms of looking out for the community, there’s no better way to protect our community than to house these children in a facility where we know where they are and not on the streets subject to gangs and trying to find food. Difference between legal and illegal immigration and believe legal immigrants have more rights and should be treated differently but when it comes to dealing with kids, I want to make sure they’re dealt with in a compassionate manner. That’s what we’re doing here. I commend the staff. Five years ago when this was not an issue, we were trying to find a way to save taxpayers dollars. We didn’t change law and put children in the facility; we were forced to build it but the law changed and we had open bed. To avoid raising taxes, the county found a way to utilize the facility and benefit local taxpayers by servicing the federal govt. Don’t want federal govt to tell Augusta County to put these kids in homeless shelter — they are better off where they are. We have to live up to that contract. Hope Congress finds a way to work together and find an immigration policy that works not only for the rich but for everyone. We should not be accepting people based on how much money they can make. This is the land of opportunity. I grew up by a very poor family and was blessed by this community to have a good business. I thank the good Lord for that. Other peole hae to have that same opportunity. I believe in laws and obeying them and living up to your obligations. We made a commitment and we should honor that.
And that concluded the immigrant children portion of the meeting. The remainder was finishing the agenda, a few items, Chairman Wills thanked everyone for their endurance, and the meeting was adjourned at 10:40 p.m.