Raleigh, N.C. — Latino advocacy groups rebuked Gov. Pat McCrory on Friday over his recent comments questioning the health of immigrant children the federal government has placed in North Carolina and the suitability of the families taking them in.
Close to 1,200 children who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border during the first six months of this year have been placed with sponsors – many times relatives – in North Carolina, and more are expected as the flood of children across the border continues.
McCrory on Tuesday criticized the federal government, saying state officials are "in the dark" about the identities of the children and their sponsors. He said he doubted anyone had conducted thorough background checks on the sponsors and said they might lack immunizations and pose a public health risk.
"At a minimum, we want to know who they are, where they're going and who their sponsors are," McCrory said.
Angeline Echeverria, executive director of El Pueblo, a nonprofit advocacy group for Latinos in the Triangle, said the governor never bothered to contact El Pueblo or any other organization working with the refugee children. All of the groups have the information he said his administration lacks.
"He seems to be spending a lot of energy raising fears, raising concerns about the unaccompanied minors, about the children who are fleeing violence," Echeverria said at a news conference. "We are very concerned about his setting a tone that is unwelcoming, a tone that is generating fear and mistrust."
Advocates said the suggestion that the children pose a health risk to others is unfounded because they have all been screened by doctors. Rev. William Barber, president of the state chapter of the NAACP, said previous generations of American immigrants faced similar accusations.
"American history is one of welcoming, but it also has an ugly side," Barber said, pointedly sending a message to McCrory: "Why are you picking on suffering immigrant children?"
There was no immediate response from McCrory's office.
Wake County resident Sabrina Cordova is sponsoring a Honduran teen and said her entire family, including her husband, the teen's former stepfather, went through criminal background checks and home inspections.
"In order to get him, we had to go through fingerprinting and everything," Cordova said. "They went through the house and checked for cleanliness, checked to make sure he was going to have somewhere to sleep, for food, checked to see how our family life was in general."
The teen received immunizations and a health screening before moving in, she said, and the family is receiving no government assistance to care for him.
Immigrant children by state
Chapel Hill Town Councilwoman Maria Palmer said numerous children show up for school across North Carolina each fall without necessary vaccinations, but school administrators are able to address such situations without the governor questioning their fitness to associate with other children.
McCrory should be more concerned with the thousands of children statewide living in poverty or whose families lack health insurance, Palmer said.
"These (immigrant) children ... are not the real threat to North Carolina," she said. "Your mean-spirited policies of denying basic assistance to working families and the middle class, that is the real threat to North Carolina."
Barber said McCrory is using the issue of immigrant children to distract the public from other issues confronting the state, from poverty to the closure of rural hospitals. The governor's criticism of the federal government also helps Republican candidates in the upcoming elections, Barber said.
"It's an old trick," he said. "What's wrong with the governor that (you) would make this your top issue with all of the other problems?"
During the news conference, Barber pulled a handful of Latino children up to the podium with signs reading "What If They Were Your Children?" and "Every Child Deserves a Chance at a Future." Although he told one girl that she didn't look like she posed a threat, none of the children was a recent immigrant who had been placed in North Carolina.
Cordova said that, like McCrory, she supports monitoring of the children.
"I don't have a problem with it. I think that's necessary. I think they need to keep up with them," she said.
Unlike the governor, however, she said she hopes the teen staying with her family can win political asylum so he doesn't return to gang violence in Honduras.
"He doesn't have anywhere to go," she said.