This article was written by Tammy Grubb and first appeared in the News & Observer on December 2, 2014
HILLSBOROUGH — The Orange County Board of Commissioners unanimously voiced their support Monday night for giving unaccompanied child refugees equal access to education, health care and protection under the law.
Carrboro’s Board of Aldermen passed a similar resolution Nov. 18 in response to the wave of unaccompanied Central American children fleeing crime, violence and extreme poverty this year.
Doris Brunson, chairwoman of the county’s Human Relations Commission, said the number of children, particularly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, has risen dramatically over the last three years. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates roughly 2,100 unaccompanied children have come to North Carolina since October 2013.
The local resolution says Orange County is “a welcoming community” to refugee children and their sponsors and asks congressional, state and federal leaders to address the concerns. It also directs county staff to work with other agencies and ensure children can access local resources.
Other counties, including Rowan, Surry and Brunswick, have passed resolutions this year to discourage undocumented and immigrant children from attending their local schools.
Policies that deny children an education because of their immigration status may not be constitutional, said attorney George Eppsteiner, with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. The U.S. Supreme Court case decided that question in a 1982 case, he said.
Some county boards are sharing proudly, however, their anti-immigrant resolutions and encouraging other counties to follow suit, Orange County Commissioner Mark Dorosin said. Those resolutions are “openly racist” and “immoral,” he said.
“I think it’s not only important for us in Orange County to affirm our commitment to justice and equal treatment and to the constitutional principles outlined in this resolution,” Dorosin said, “but to really stake out a strong position for our other colleagues across the state, as well as our colleagues in Orange County that they should do the same.”
Orange County should tell other counties where it stands, Commissioners Penny Rich and Barry Jacobs said.
“It’s very American to be prejudiced,” Jacobs said. “I think that we have to continue to fight the know-nothings who throughout American history have tried to deny to other people the rights that they either already enjoyed or came here to enjoy.”