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Unaccompanied Minors – Bringing the Debate to Upstate New York

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Activist Rebecca Fuentes

For weeks now the debate surrounding the unaccompanied minors from Central American has continued to grow and overall it has created a debate in the US that has a harsh and uncompromising tone.   This dispute has recently started to take place closer to home as Syracuse elected officials and leaders, as well as its residents, grapple with whether or not these children should be housed in Onondaga County at the site of a former convent even though it is located 2,000 miles north of the Mexican border.  There are opinions on both sides of the debate that include those who would put out a welcome mat for the children and those who firmly have the “Not in My Back Yard” mindset, or, more accurately stated, “Not in Any American’s Back Yard”.

Since the news broke that Syracuse’s mayor, Stephanie Miner, went on the record stating that she supports bringing the children to upstate New York, I have been closely following her constituents’ reactions.  My informal content analysis of social media and the local online Syracuse news (including over 1000 reader comments that quickly drew the battle lines) reveals that the debate taking place in Syracuse reflects the debate taking place in small and large cities around the US.  Syracuse is a microcosm of what has been going on in the rest of the country; its city’s residents are polarized on the topic of migrant children and the increasing tension from both sides of the immigration debate is palpable.

To provide a little background about how Syracuse got launched into the immigration debate, this article  on Syracuse.com pretty much covers its onset.  When Mayor Miner sent President Obama an official letter stating Syracuse would “welcome the establishment of a site in Syracuse” to house some of the migrant children, the seeds of the debate were planted.  And when she followed it with “I believe that my position, and Syracuse’s position, is the exception,” the debate erupted and the stand off began.

Proposed Syracuse site, a former convent, is at the heart of the debate

Proposed Syracuse site, a former convent, is at the heart of the debate

Having this debate take place so close to home interests me on so many levels.  As a legal advocate, I have a firm opinion that the unaccompanied minors should be offered refugee protection and due process.   I also work for the Catholics who have taken a firm stance, similar to my own, that the US needs to offer the children protection, as well as address the root causes that are causing poverty and the rise in violence in Central America.   And as an upstate New Yorker, I am curious to see how Syracuse residents are responding to the possibility of some of the migrant children taking refuge in our part of the state.

Our office has been receiving several inquiries about what can be done locally to assist the unaccompanied minors who are crossing the border.  Advocacy around this is certainly needed and for those in New York who want to voice your concerns, you can call 1-866-940-2439 to be connected with the offices of your Representative and both NY Senators.  Then either call them and let them know you strongly oppose any rollbacks to the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (TVPRA) or let them know you are calling to support this letter already sent to Congress from the New York Immigration Coalition.

Ithacans and other upstate New Yorkers can also certainly enter into the Syracuse debate – Syracuse.com has been announcing the times & dates of all public forums, protests, and rallies surrounding it.  I am sure Mayor Miner, activist Rebecca Fuentes (pictured at the top), and other Syracuse immigration advocates would appreciate some additional allies. I firmly stand behind the Mayor and as an upstate New Yorker I am proud to be a neighbor of a city that has  an elected  official who is willing to take a seemingly not-so-popular stance in order to protect a group of vulnerable migrant children.

Sue Chaffee

Accredited Rep