Pandering on the refugee crisis

Pandering on the refugee crisis

- in Weekly Briefing


Governor McCrory wades unhelpfully into the immigration debate

It’s a time-honored tradition for politicians who find their popularity lagging at home: pick or manufacture an external issue/enemy (ideally one over which he or she has no real duties or control) and start railing. This can be an especially attractive tactic for conservative officials worried about their right-wing base. It’s a chance to display the requisite degree of “toughness” without worrying too much about any real life consequences.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory appears to have gotten the memo on this topic. For evidence, check out his latest forays into the world of immigration policy and the ongoing Central American child refugee crisis.

Pushing the ideological buttons

Last week, McCrory joined forces with five other conservative Republican governors from non-border states to sign a letter of complaint/critique to President Obama that essentially forecasts a menacing invasion from the south and fixes the blame on the President.

McCrory followed this up with a Saturday appearance on the “fair and balanced” conservative morning gab show called “Fox and Friends.” The interview started with the following enlightening exchange:

Host: “How have you decided that this has now reached an all-time pitch, a peak, where you need to take action? You’re not in a border state, but this is putting a strain on your system.”

McCrory: “Well, first of all, the immigration issue has never been just a border state issue with, uh, Texas or California or Nevada, or I mean Arkansas, I mean Arizona. But it’s an issue for all states, including North Carolina. And right now, we anticipate that we probably have over a thousand kids that have come to North Carolina. The communications has (sic) been very, very poor.”

After that, despite offering no time frame for the supposed influx or any other real details as to where he was obtaining his information, McCrory claimed that large numbers of kids were being “sponsored” by “Illegal immigrants” who might well be funneling them into the drug and prostitution trades.

McCrory: “We don’t know who these sponsors are. We know for a fact, based upon our conversation with the new Secretary of Health and Human Services two weeks ago that many of these sponsors are themselves illegal or undocumented.”

Say what? Do you know or not?

Naturally, the fun people at Fox News juxtaposed McCrory’s mug with ominous images of dark-skinned men gathered in the desert and riding atop freight trains as the Governor claimed that the influx in North Carolina would likely be “permanent” and have a “huge impact” on “our schools,” “our Medicaid” and “all our human services.”

This week, the Governor’s office distributed his weekly email newsletter under the heading: “Nearly 2,000 Jobs in One Week, Securing the Border & More.” The newsletter, which also oddly enough features a fuzzy picture of the governor as a college boy holding a dog (apparently to show his kind-heartedness), trumpets the letter from the six governors, saying that it urged the President “to secure our country’s borders and to protect the safety of the children involved in the crisis.”

Got that? Cute puppies “si,” immigrant kids “no.”

Making sense of the claims and the politics

One doesn’t have to be a professional campaign consultant to grasp the politics behind the Governor’s newfound expertise and interest in the child refugee crisis. When the chips are down, there’s seldom a more reliably bankable stance for modern American politicians of the right than appearing tough on immigration. As we noted last week on The Progressive Pulse blog:

this week’s award for most ridiculous, self-serving and utterly irrelevant “contribution” to the discussion has to be this letter to the President from a group of six conservative Republican governors that includes North Carolina’s own Pat McCrory. In it, the six (which includes far right “humanitarians” like Scott Walker and Sam Brownback) call for a “plan” that will deal with the current crisis in which thousands of children have crossed the border in a “humanitarian and practical way.”

But, of course, the not-so-thinly-veiled undercurrent of the letter is plain: the Guvs want Obama to make these kids go away ASAP.

[To quote the letter:] “More importantly, we are concerned that the failure to return the unaccompanied children will send a message that will encourage a much larger movement towards our southern border.”

And naturally, the letter provides zero in the way of specifics as to how to do this — much less an endorsement of comprehensive immigration reform that is the only hope for making a dent.”

Put simply, for a governor wrestling with lousy poll numbers and a contentious legislature of his own party that treats him mostly as an afterthought, “getting tough on immigration” is an obvious, if strikingly cynical, course.

But, of course, good near-term politics don’t always make for good policy (or, often, have much to do with facts on the ground). That’s certainly the case in this instance where McCrory’s claims about the supposed threat to North Carolina’s public services and his “worries” about the well-being of the children themselves fail the laugh test.

First of all, the notion that a few hundred kids (or even a few thousand if it ever came to that) could have some kind of major debilitating impact on North Carolina’s education or safety net structures is just silly. Even if one lays aside the fact that many important safety net programs are completely closed to immigrants, the numbers just don’t add up. North Carolina is, after all, home to 10 million people. The children in question do not even amount to a rounding error for any public service.

Even arch-conservative columnist George Will (of all people!) confirmed this obvious truth over the weekend on another Fox News show in a discussion of the refugee crisis as reported by the folks Think Progress:

We ought to say to these children, ‘Welcome to America, you’re going to go to school and get a job and become Americans,’” Will implored. “We have 3,141 counties in this country. That would be 20 per county. The idea that we can’t assimilate these eight-year-old criminals with their teddy bears is preposterous.”

[Fox host Chris] Wallace warned that detractors will accuse Will of not understanding the issue, but he was undeterred. “We can handle this problem, is what I’m saying,” he reassured. “We’ve handled what Emma Lazarus famously called ‘the wretched refuse of your teeming shores’ a long time ago and a lot more people than this.”

Second, if the Governor is genuinely concerned about innocent and desperate children ending up in the worlds of drugs and prostitution, the notion that he would propose to address such a terrible problem by deporting the kids back to the desperate straits of their homelands and whining about the prospect of his state chipping in to address the crisis is just plain absurd.

Going forward

As was also noted in last week’s blog post regarding the letter from conservative governors,

There is a lot of lousy stuff happening in the world of immigration these days and, Lord knows, the Obama administration deserves its share of the blame — mostly for its unfortunate kowtowing to the xenophobic right and its aggressive deportation of thousands of good people who pose no threat to our country.

That said, there can be no doubt that the lion’s share of the blame for the current disastrous situation lies with those who stubbornly oppose comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a path to citizenship for “DREAM’ers” and millions who are here to stay while dramatically increasing the opportunities for legal immigration for Central Americans fleeing broken societies.

For now and for pretty obvious political reasons, Governor Pat McCrory has firmly staked himself out with the obstructers. Let’s hope fervently that, once the Governor makes his political hay by ginning up the conservative base, he goes back to doing what he’s done best on this subject: keeping his beak closed.

About the author

Rob Schofield, Director of NC Policy Watch, has three decades of experience as a lawyer, lobbyist, writer and commentator. At Policy Watch, Rob writes and edits daily online commentaries and handles numerous public speaking and electronic media appearances. He also delivers a radio commentary that’s broadcast weekdays on WRAL-FM and WCHL and hosts News and Views, a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.