Sen. Tom Harkin sharply criticized Gov. Terry Branstad and others reluctant to extend humanitarian aid to unaccompanied minors coming to the United States from Central America.
“I’m disappointed that Gov. Terry Branstad has somehow stated that we shouldn’t take these kids,” he said during a conference call with Iowa reporters Thursday. “Why not? Why can’t we help protect these kids?”
He didn’t spare the Obama administration from his criticism.
“I’m upset at this harshness, this harshness, that is pervading our politics these days,” the five-term Democrat said. “That even in a situation like this, even the administration said we have to change the law to send them back quicker.
“No we don’t,” Harkin said. “The most important thing is not to send them back in a hurry. That’s my argument with this administration and everybody else.”
“The first and most important thing is to make sure the kids are safe, make sure they are well-fed, they are clothed, they are housed,” Harkin insisted. He also wants to make sure they have “every reasonable opportunity” to apply for asylum.
Davenport Mayor Bill Gluba is “right on target” for proposing that the community provide refuge to some of the children who have come the U.S. illegally.
“That’s in keeping with our history in Iowa,” Harkin said.
That contrasts with Branstad’s response, which Harkin called a departure from the compassion former Republican Gov. Bob Ray showed in the 1970s in helping to settle refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
“They didn’t go through proper channels,” Harkin said. “They didn’t come here legally. They were refugees, fleeing war, the terrible things happening to them. We took them in and they have become a wonderful part of the Iowa community.
The Central American children are “fleeing the same kind of terror from gangs and violence and murder,” he said.
A spokesman for Branstad said the governor “empathizes with the children and their parents who are seeking a better life in America.
However, spokesman Jimmy Centers continued, “he believes we must secure our border first and follow immigration laws already in place.”
Branstad is concerned that if the situation at the border is not handled properly it “may encourage others to attempt the very dangerous journey across Central America and Mexico.”
Harkin rejected the idea that providing refuge for the 50,000 to 60,000 unaccompanied minors would encourage bad behavior.
“These kids are escaping drugs and violence and murder and rape and forced prostitution,” Harkin said. “Is that bad behavior? I don’t think so.”
Harkin also endorsed the Coalition of Mercy proposed by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Sen. Jack Hatch.
“That’s the approach we ought to take,” Harkin said.