‘A scary place to be’

By Keith Strange

August 13, 2014

DOBSON — An issue that is dominating the national, and international, news is going local Monday night.

Following a recent phone call with the National Association of Counties that he called “deeply disturbing,” Commissioner Larry Phillips has asked to address immigration issues during the Surry County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Phillips said the phone call, which included representatives from the White House, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, was simply an attempt to find out what is being done on the national level to control the flood of illegal immigrants coming into the nation.

“I thought that all I was hearing about on this issue was from the national media, and this phone call would give me first-hand knowledge of what is going on,” he said. “What I learned is deeply disturbing.”

According to the commissioner, 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.”

Phillips said that through a follow-up phone call he learned that within a week more than 300 undocumented children were believed to have come to North Carolina.

“I spoke with (North Carolina Social Services Director) Wayne Black, and he said that in the previous week they thought there were about 1,200 undocumented children between the ages of 5 and 17 in North Carolina,” Phillips said. “The morning I talked to him, a week later, that number had climbed to over 1,500.”

The disturbing part, according to Phillips, involves health, safety and oversight issues.

“Who is responsible for their safety?” He asked. “Is a relative or someone else going to exploit them? The federal government is keeping states and counties in the dark about these things.

“If an American child goes into the foster care system, for example, there is government oversight,” Phillips added. “To be a sponsor doesn’t require any oversight. Since that phone call, I’ve talked to the sheriff, the Department of Social Services and our health director and all of them are concerned about the criminal element.

“How are we going to protect these children? Are they going to become victims of sex trafficking? Are they carrying viruses?” Phillips added. “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.”

The county commissioner said the issue has “serious implications for the county.”

“But more importantly, there are serious implications for these children,” he said. “I can’t imagine being the parent in Honduras whose 5-year-old child has been abducted to be smuggled into the United States. We need to secure the border now, reunite these children with their government and let that government reunite them with their family.”

Phillips said he plans to ask the county board to do two things:

First, he wants the county to draft a letter to the National Association of Counties asking them to petition the federal government to enforce immigration laws.

He also wants the county, and all other counties in North Carolina, to send resolutions to the embassies of Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua calling for the boycott of all products from the countries.

“If we have to take these children and provide for their safety and health while their governments collapse and refuse to enforce their immigration laws, we certainly don’t have to purchase their products,” Phillips said. “They have to step up and fix this.”

As for how many illegal children have made it to Surry County, Phillips shrugged.

“That’s the thing, we don’t know,” he said. “Wayne Black (state social services director) doesn’t know.

“They very well could be here, but frankly we just don’t know. If they are here, we don’t know if they’re safe. We don’t know about their immunization status and we have no oversight.

“And that’s a scary place for us to be.”

The meeting is set to get under way at 6 p.m., in the Commissioners Meeting Room of the Surry County Government Center in Dobson.

Keith Strange can be reached at 336-415-4698 or via Twitter @strangereporter.