Clarence Fanto: Sad to see citizens not want to help


LENOX - Behold the suffering of little children: The estimated 57,000 refugees from Central American gang violence and the 200-plus youngsters among the more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians who have died from Israeli rockets in the Gaza crossfire. A front-page photo in Thursday's New York Times showing five terrified, suffering children arriving at a Gaza shelter for victims of the fighting is haunting and nightmarish. That picture alone is worth 10,000, perhaps 100,000 words. It's emblematic of the unconscionable human toll caused by the three-week conflagration.

Despite a humanitarian pause in the fighting Saturday, the prospects of a meaningful, durable cease-fire between Israel and Hamas - whom the Israeli and U.S. governments describe as terrorists and most others depict as militants - seem dim. If you delve into international news coverage of the conflagration, it's immediately apparent that Israel's attacks, however justified that nation feels by the several thousand rockets Hamas has fired into Israel, have aroused widespread worldwide revulsion because of the civilian death toll.

A nuanced view by Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof - reprinted in The Eagle on Thursday - offered this conclusion: "Here we have a conflict between right and right that has been hijacked by hard-liners on each side who feed each other. It's not that they are the same, and what I see isn't equivalence. Yet there is, in some ways, a painful symmetry - and one element is that each side vigorously denies that there is any symmetry at all."

Turning to the plight of the Central American young people fleeing from unspeakable horror in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, it's discouraging that so many Massachusetts residents are looking askance at Gov. Deval Patrick's praiseworthy offer of temporary shelter for up to 1,000 migrant children either at the National Guard's Camp Edwards in Bourne on Cape Cod, or at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee.

"I believe that we will one day have to answer for our actions, and our inactions," said a choked-up governor at a July 18 news conference.

Surrounded by religious leaders, Patrick quoted Scripture, "My faith teaches that, if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him, but rather love him as yourself."

"Every major faith tradition on the planet charges its followers to treat others as we ourselves wish to be treated," he continued. "I don't know what good there is in faith if we can't, and won't, turn to it in moments of human need."

Anticipating pushback from politicians and residents, the governor explained that if the Obama administration accepts his invitation, the federal government would bear the entire expense and manage the shelter with its own staff.

The refugee center for children ages 3 to 17 would close within four months; they would receive health screenings and vaccinations before their arrival, would not attend local schools, but remain on the base, provided with food and education pending their appearances before federal immigration judges.

Yes, the unaccompanied minors who have crossed the border from Mexico into the Southwest are undocumented, and therefore here illegally.

But under the 2008 law proposed and approved by Congress and signed by President Bush, aimed at protecting children from sex traffickers, children from these countries cannot be deported before a court hearing. That could take many months, even several years.

With Congress log-jammed as usual over immigration reform, humanitarian considerations must take over.

A Boston Globe poll this past week found that 50 percent of Massachusetts residents surveyed expressed support for Patrick's invitation, with 43 percent opposed. But when asked whether migrant children should be allowed to remain in the U.S. after their day in court, only 39 percent said yes, while 43 percent favored deportation.

It seems Massachusetts is a less liberal state than it's often depicted.

Predictably, local officials in Chicopee turned aside the idea of sheltering children at the Westover base.

In Bourne, the reaction of some Cape Cod residents and the Selectmen - who wrote to the governor expressing opposition - was inhumane and reflected paranoia.

As reported on WBUR, the public radio station in Boston, and in The Boston Globe, a Buzzards Bay resident displayed a banner reading: "No illegals."

"They're not all cute little kids with brown eyes," said Mary Woodruff. "They're adults, and they know what they're doing. And they're going to be suckin' us dry. Send them the hell back."

"It's our town and we don't even know what's going on, we don't know how many people are coming, whether they're gang members or whatever," said Bourne Selectwoman Linda Zuern.

Widening her argument to immigrants from the Middle East and China, she declared: "My feeling is this whole invasion of our country is against the Constitution."

A local fisherman, Phil Michaud, worried aloud about his family's safety: "These people don't have the same culture we have here in Bourne, and we have to protect our children."

On the other hand, Mollie Traggis of Buzzards Bay, a former pediatric nurse, told WBUR: "They're innocent children, they need to be taken care of, and I don't know what other choices these children would have."

Defending his proposal at a Boston appearance, Patrick declared: "It bears remembering they're children and they're alone. I think we are the kind of country and the kind of commonwealth who can step up."

Sadly, all too many citizens have no intention of stepping up. That reflects poorly on where we are as a state, a nation and a society. As is so often the case, it's innocent children who are the ultimate victims.

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