Recently, Governor Kristi Noem took to Twitter to issue a statement on immigration and the situation at the southern border. For Gov. Noem, unaccompanied children apprehended at the border have no place in South Dakota. In her view, those without citizenship status are not American, and they are not welcome.
Governor Noem is wrong.
Not only do these children deserve to be welcomed by South Dakota, but their lack of citizenship says nothing about whether they belong in America.
As someone who works with members of the faith community to welcome the stranger and show hospitality and compassion to the most vulnerable and marginalized, I work closely with Latina/o immigrants who have come to America to make a better life. Many of them are fleeing tragic situations. Poverty, violence and crime have driven them from their homes into a foreign land. It’s easy to politicize immigration—both sides are guilty of turning the plight of immigrants and refugees into a partisan issue. But the situation at the southern border is a humanitarian crisis that transcends partisan politics. I cannot imagine the desperation and hopelessness that these families feel as they flee their homeland. I cannot fathom the desperation that causes a parent to risk sending their children across the border alone, fully aware they may never see them again. Is it fair to cast aspersions and blame? Is it just to turn our backs and leave them to face an uncertain future alone?
The unaccompanied children apprehended at the border may not be citizens, but this doesn’t make them illegal. In fact, they are following a perfectly legal procedure outlined in American law. Our country has always been a place where those fleeing persecution and violence could find shelter. As people seeking asylum, there is a legal process that gives them the opportunity to plead their case as they seek to remain in the United States. As the federal government follows these procedures and processes these children, they need a place to stay, and they need people to help care for them.
Through my work with faith communities around the state, I know South Dakotans are hardworking people willing to help anyone in need. They do so out of a deep sense of faith and responsibility, willing to lend a hand even with those with whom they disagree.
I urge Governor Noem to set aside partisan politics and reconsider her position. These children are in desperate need of help—I know South Dakotans are up to the challenge. I hope Governor Noem will give them the opportunity.
Jason Lief is a Bibles, Badges, and Business Mobilizer for the National Immigration Forum in South Dakota.