The new numbers from the Office of Refugee Resettlement yesterday on the so-called unaccompanied children led to concern and confusion about the 10- and 12-year-olds who have come here to escape violence in their homelands. According to the Federal government, 1,181 of the children have gone to live with their families in Suffolk and 1,096 have gone to Nassau. Long Island has two of the Top 10 counties the children are living in in the United States.
This is no real surprise. The children are from Central America and Long Island has the fifth largest Central American community in this country. The children, often depicted in the media as rootless orphans, are in fact the sons and daughters of our neighbors here on Long Island. Parents who do not want to see their children killed, are sheltering them here.
While Long Island’s share of the children seems large, the fact is that an average of only 39 children arrived in Suffolk each week of what some are calling a “deluge” and even fewer arrived in Nassau. While a picture of impending doom is presented to Fox News viewers, the real numbers are comparatively small in a region with 450,000 immigrants and a total population of 2.8 million.
It’s a number that is so small in terms of the total population that, were it not for people trying to politically exploit this issue, it would have gone practically unnoticed. If the children are treated fairly and in accordance to American values, they will become important contributors to Long Island economically, and to our civic life.
Not all of the children will be allowed to stay in the United States. They are being scheduled for hearings to determine whether they will be deported or get to remain here. Each child will get a chance to tell his or her story, to have a day in court that we as Americans consider fundamental to our way of life.
What is outside of our traditions is the call from some politicians to throw due process aside and to bully the children back to a place where they may get killed. We have a system of laws. Let us let it work.