Where the federal government is derelict, civil society is stepping into the breach
Kol HaKavod — respect! — to the Jewish Community Relations Council, Jewish Family Service, Temple Emanuel, to Rabbi Emily Hyatt and Dan Leshem, and the many, many volunteers who have stepped into the breach, offering their services in the form of coordination and manpower, to help clothe and care for the many who have arrived in Denver in recent weeks, with only the packs on their backs, totally unprepared for the frigid temperatures of the Mile High City.
The Jewish response will always be the humanitarian one, a response of care and compassion for those in need.
But the city, the state, the country, must examine both the policies that have allowed an unexpected influx into Denver of asylum seekers, and the policy response.
As of last week, Denver city officials estimated that it had spent $3 million dealing with this crisis. That is a huge sum of money for a city dealing with a homelessness and affordable housing crisis. And we presume, when all is said and done, that the costs will be far higher. The electricity and natural gas alone to heat and power the Denver Coliseum during our most frigid temperature amid record Xcel energy bills will surely cost more than projected.
This is not, however, primarily a money conversation. Because this crisis is just the latest in a long line of crises that stem from poor governance in the face of growing instability and insecurity. On their worst days, our elected officials use issues — often involving real human beings — to score political points. On their best days, they apply Band-Aids, treat symptoms, almost always avoiding examining the root of a given problem.
Homelessness? Whack-a-mole sweeps that shuffle camps from street corner to street corner, neither providing housing or mental health solutions or recognizing that some of these camps are open air drug scenes rife with crime.
Concern about corruption and racism when it comes to cash bonds? Instead of reforming that system, moving to a personal recognizance bond that is available not only to those accused of misdemeanors, but also those charged with violent felonies, including domestic abuse.
Too many substance abusers? Try the innocent sounding harm reduction, which reduces the harm of overdosing, but does little to uncover the core issues driving the abuse.
When it comes to illegal immigration, we’ve seen the worst of politicians from both sides: DeSantis transporting migrants to Martha’s Vineyard as a cynical political stunt or Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver City Council hanging a huge “We Love Immigrants” banner on the City and County Building. The latter may not have seemed to be the worst — until this past month, as those immigrants took up the city’s invitation and the city responded with emergency aid, but also sought to move those migrants on to other cities. The banner was clearly an exercise in political point scoring by a group of people who never thought they’d have to answer for it.
Gov. Polis and Mayor Hancock keep repeating that they are doing what they can to help “migrants reach their desired destination.” This strikes us as wrong on many levels. Most obviously, it is a repudiation of the invitation issued when, for example, local and state government made it clear they would do whatever they could not to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement unless forced to. How can Denver call itself a sanctuary city but then seek to transfer out people accepting that sanctuary? Is this a classic case of being able to talk the talk but not walk the talk? Of course Polis and Hancock weren’t really seeking to help the migrants reach their desired destination as much as trying to get them out of Denver. It was only when municipal leaders from other jurisdictions — most of them also self-proclaimed sanctuary cities — balked, that Polis and Hancock backtracked.
But Polis and Hancock aren’t the real problem. A refugee crisis should never fall on municipal and state leaders. The real culprit though in all this is the federal government, which appears to neither have control of its borders nor robust policies in place to deal with the breaches thereof. So more Band-Aids: sending $800 million this month to areas dealing with this crisis — including Colorado — as if this is an emergency.
Well, it is an emergency, in that the people who have arrived need help immediately. Not an emergency in the sense of unexpected. The United States has had a porous border for decades and all of the recent administrations, from Biden to Trump to Obama have failed to find real solutions.
We don’t pretend to have the answers — but neither were we elected to find and implement them. That’s Congress’ job — and immigration is just another area of governance that Congress has failed to act on in a long-term way. Instead of policy we have emergency funding or deferred action (it’s literally in the name!), and then when the executive branch is forced to step in, we wind up with caged children or the latest solution put forward by President Biden which at first sounds decent but upon closer review is baffling.
The Biden administration is putting into place a system of humanitarian parole for 30,000 people a month from Cuba, Haiti, Venezuela and Nicaragua — but only if they apply online, pay for the airfare and find a financial sponsor. Are we dense? Because it seems to us that if someone is fleeing danger, trying to escape a war-torn country or one plagued by violent gangs, that person may likely not have regular internet access to first make their application and then regularly check a portal to see if it has been approved, forget about having the money for airfare or even know anyone in the US, let alone one who could sponsor them.
Is this initiative just another Band Aid?
Further, the Biden administration says that if any of these refugees enter illegally they will be expelled into Mexico. This strikes us as inhumane. In fact, it goes so far as to remind of the draconian policies under Franklin Roosevelt that prevented so many Jewish refugees from finding safe harbor from Hitler and Nazism.
It’s almost as if the Biden administration does not believe these people are refugees, but are strictly economic migrants. Is that confusion part of what is informing this country’s inability to come up with comprehensive immigration reform?
And make no mistake: comprehensive immigration reform is both necessary and criminally long overdue. Strong policies must be put in place, for a gamut of reasons. A weak border has allowed for nearly unfettered import of fentanyl into this country leading to countless overdoses. A weak border invites desperate people to take deadly risks in order to try and find security and livelihood in another country.
One need only look to the waters of the Mediterranean, tragically a final resting place for too many who have died fleeing Africa for Europe. A weak border means those who enter the country illegally will struggle to truly prosper here as they will have to exist “below the radar.” None of this is good either for Americans or those seeking to become Americans.
Until such reform happens — and, sadly, we are not holding our breath — the Jewish community will continue to step up and help where it can, whether through monetary aid, providing a location for a donation center or donating goods, to help ensure that the people who find themselves in Denver without a support system, are met with compassion.
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