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Standing up for children [Editorial]

Another proposal to house undocumented children in Maryland and another shameful response. This time it wasn't rural Carroll County blasting the prospect of "illeagles" living outside Westminster, but a Baltimore County councilman decrying the potential presence of a mere 50 youngsters at St. Vincent's Villa in Timonium.

Fifty children. Not enough to fill up one grade level at a typical elementary school. Yet that's apparently too much for Councilman Todd Huff who, while acknowledging that Catholic Charities does "phenomenal" work, believes the organization should "stick with the work here of our own."

That's pretty rich. Catholic Charities of Baltimore has been helping Marylanders for generations, a legacy of giving to all who ask for it that dates back to the establishment of the Catholic Church in this city in 1792. Through 80 programs in 200 locations in this state, they help tens of thousands of people every day of the week — including many immigrants.

There are 57,000 children who have entered the United States from Central America since October who need to be housed and fed, cared for and given appropriate medical treatment. They have swamped facilities in Texas. Housing them in the best facilities available, whether they are in Maryland or elsewhere in this country, is the humanitarian thing to do.

Indeed, it's hard to argue that St. Vincent's isn't a good choice for this duty. It is a residential facility for children with behavioral and emotional problems that used to house 110 youngsters and now has just 40. The capacity is there, the organization is there, and staff are accustomed to dealing with kids who are far more challenging.

It would be one thing if Mr. Huff was a lone voice in the wilderness but he is not. Del. Wade Kach who represents the area in Annapolis and defeated Mr. Huff last month to become his party's nominee for the local County Council district, opposes the plan, too. He's even sent a letter to Baltimore Archbishop William E. Lori saying he was "greatly alarmed" and wants at least two public meetings held in the community.

County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat, should have rolled out the welcome mat, but instead last week issued a rather bland statement reminding people that county government has no say in whether Catholic Charities houses the immigrant children or not. He called on the federal government to pursue a comprehensive immigration strategy to solve this "significant humanitarian crisis."

Well, duh. But in case Mr. Kamenetz is unaware of internal GOP politics and the gridlock in Washington, that's not happening any time soon. In the meantime, we are left with not only an ethical responsibility to care for innocent children who have undergone extraordinary hardship to come to the United States but a legal one, too. Under a 2008 anti-human trafficking law, children from countries not contiguous to the U.S. must be given a chance to argue for asylum, and that takes time to make appropriate arrangements within a legal system that's already overloaded.

More of Maryland's elected leaders need to stand up as Gov. Martin O'Malley has done and remind the public that this ought to be treated as a humanitarian crisis, not a political one, and that shipping kids "back to certain death" in their native countries is not what the U.S. is about. The failure of Congress to deal with immigration reform and the 11 million undocumented living in this country — whether proposed by Barack Obama or George W. Bush — shouldn't cause a nation of immigrants to turn its back on the most vulnerable immigrants of all.

That people might show such little compassion for a child born in a dangerous war-torn land is shameful, and the possibility that Congress may balk at giving the Obama administration the emergency funds needed to address the crisis is an embarrassment as well. As Pope Francis reminded his followers weeks ago, Jesus was an undocumented immigrant, having to stay in Egypt until the death of Herod. St. Vincent's is a far better choice than some tent city or makeshift dormitory in an abandoned federal building or military installation. Kudos to Catholic Charities for recognizing an opportunity to help those in need.

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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