The lack of a coherent federal strategy to deal with immigration into the United States forced the issue to the front doorstep of those states and towns that span our southern land border. This is not unprecedented in our national history: the ports of New York City, Boston and San Francisco faced the same influx of poor, oppressed people seeking a better life in America over an extended span of time more than 100 years ago.
Then, as now, a significant portion of the existing American population wanted nothing to do with the newcomers. The immigrants looked different. They spoke a different language. They may have worshipped a different religion. Those already here made no connection to their own family immigration stories and treated the newcomers as aliens, strangers and dangerous to their way of life.
The lack of a national strategy comes from a lack of national consensus on what we should do. Many simply keep migrants out. Build a wall — "a big, beautiful wall." We can’t solve the problems of the world and we are not going to assume any burden for those outside our country.
"They are not us."
"We owe them no entry."
"If they are suffering poverty or persecution in their land, we cannot be expected to take them all in."
That mantra has become once again the firm policy of one of our political parties, and no coherent strategy can be constructed with such opposition.
A rational strategy is essential
In the book of Matthew, given that sacred scripture is often quoted to support other political policies, the disciple who writes is clear: when you offer food and drink, shelter and compassion to the stranger, you have done so to the Almighty. Eternal reward or punishment is meted out depending on your response.
Secularly, immigrant work helped build this country in the 1800s and 1900s. Properly structured, new residents provide growth for the marketplace, helping produce goods and services in roles our current residents may not wish to do, and they can expand the consumer market for those very goods and services.
A rational direction of immigration can make America stronger, not weaker.
But, when that is not possible in Washington D.C., state and local governments must deal with the problem at their front doorstep: human beings, desperately escaping horror stories of lives lived in abject poverty, in fear of violence. Texas has determined their strategy is to ship some of this problem to northern cities — with an attitudinal edge of saying, "You’re so compassionate — let’s see how you deal with it." The buses came to New York City and Chicago and elsewhere. And the problem has in fact reached many more front doorsteps.
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How Westchester will respond
I am the chief elected official of a suburban county of one million people directly north of New York City. As the city exceeds its capacity to handle the flood of people in need, they have turned to their neighbors for help. Political philosophy applies — and some neighboring counties want no part of the problem and fight any shared assistance vigorously.
My administration in Westchester County sees this in pragmatic terms. The people who are migrants are in dire need. Our city neighbor is trying to address that need. They, too, need help. Realistically, we have limited resources and can help to a limited degree. If we can manage some numbers, with proper services and controls in place, we, too, can help. We do not have the resources to take on overwhelming numbers — if other places, everywhere each do a modest share, we can make this influx manageable.
There are some of our residents and not just a few, who will bitterly oppose any such rational response, however well managed and limited that may be. And there are as well many other residents who support compassion and rational responses to this.
I don’t doubt we’ll see at the next Election Day how we are judged.
And I don’t doubt that when the political careers are over, and when our time on this planet is over, we will be judged again.
All of us. Every single one of us. Judged for how we treated our neighbor.
George Latimer is Westchester County Executive.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: NYC migrant housing Westchester County NY