To the Editor:
Forty six years ago, I lived in Texas. People illegally crossing our southern border often died in the process.
Over the years, federal and state authorities established procedures to prevent these deaths and provide safe facilities for people they intercepted. Various organizations challenged these procedures and the safety of the facilities established to house illegal immigrants.
In 1985, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law filed suit in federal court concerning the treatment of children in these facilities. Other organizations joined in legal actions against the federal government eventually resulting in the landmark case of Reno vs. Flores adjudicated by the Supreme Court in 1993. Subsequently, the United States District Court Central District of California initiated a settlement agreement with the government, Jenny Lisette Flores, the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, National Center for Youth Law, ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Steich Lang (a law firm) in 1997.
This agreement is the basis of the controversy on immigration dividing our nation today. This complicated settlement is available on the internet and I invite readers to download and read it. Note that this agreement took four years to write. If someone has a better approach to immigration policy, I’m certain that the United States District Court Central District of California would welcome your amicus brief.
In the meantime, the only body that can change this “settled” law is the United States Congress.
Recently, a group of clergy on MDI authored an article indirectly decrying the horrible treatment of children by our immigration and Homeland Security agencies.
My impression of the officials in these federal agencies is that they are caring individuals doing their best to comply with a complicated court ruling in an atmosphere of hate and rancor unprecedented in my lifetime. The clergy who authored the article are associated with the United Church of Christ with which I’m associated. I was the chairman of the Board of Deacons of the Bar Harbor Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, for many years. It is unfortunate that the leaders of the United Church of Christ and other religious bodies on MDI enter into rancorous debates with so little understanding of the fundamental issues.
In my assessment, the basis of our immigration policy is simple greed. For example, the state of California would suffer a serious economic setback should our immigration laws be made more rational. However, California is not alone. Businesses and farmers in Maine use migrant workers to bolster their bottom line. The United Church of Christ and other organizations on MDI support various efforts to provide food, shelter and medical aid to migrant workers, many of whom are undocumented, because the employers of these workers provide deplorable conditions under which these workers and their families must live. Why don’t these organizations challenge the business owners and farmers responsible for these horrors?
Mount Desert is not immune to such deplorable activity. I’ve lived on MDI for 30 years and during that time have served the community in various capacities including serving on the town of Bar Harbor Warrant Committee and as a member of the Board of Directors of Hancock County Habitat for Humanity.
I’ve frequently intervened very privately to correct deplorable situations in Hancock County. Seasonal workers are often mistreated. I approached the Bar Harbor health officer to correct a situation where seasonal workers were forced to share beds without even changing the bed linens between usages. He told me he could do nothing because if he enforced the law, half the seasonal workers would be living on the streets. I went above his head and the situation was corrected.
I was informed by the neighbors of a large family that this family was in desperate need. The family had planned a Thanksgiving dinner consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I helped that family but have always wondered why these concerned neighbors did not invite this family to Thanksgiving dinner.
Then there is the very serious and largely ignored issue of drug abuse on MDI, particularly among local teenagers. I could go on with numerous other examples. However, I don’t consider myself righteous enough to judge others. I think the reader understands my point.
The real problem is local greed here and in other parts of the country where migrant workers and people on work visas are exploited. My message to the people on MDI is the gospel scripture: Matthew 7:1-5.