Sweet: Kirk comes off as mean tying border crisis to gangs

Written By Lynn Sweet Posted: 07/12/2014, 02:17am

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WASHINGTON — Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., is unnecessarily inflaming the border-children crisis, raising fears about kids from other countries in Chicago shelters, without parents around, caught in a legal limbo. Kirk is trying to connect this crisis to his anti-gang crusade, and instead of looking tough, he comes off as just mean.

Kirk created the impression that hundreds of these youths are suddenly flooding Chicago as he sounded the alarms. Here’s Kirk’s Thursday hyped-up tweet, the short version of his press release: “Just learned 429 minors from border crisis are now in Chicago, but State Dept. can’t say if any has criminal record.”

As if these kids checked in with the U.S. embassy in their home countries before hooking up with their smugglers?

Kirk’s gone down this inflammatory road before in his quest to be tough on crime. Last year, he called for rounding up thousands of gang members in Chicago, only to realize eventually that mass round-ups were not feasible.

The reality is that the Chicago area has been a place where unaccompanied children from other countries have been sheltered by the federal government for years. So lets not get hysterical here.

Back on Dec. 15, 2009, the Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, Office of Refugee Resettlement,  contracted with the Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights at 208 S. La Salle to provide services to “unaccompanied alien children.”

The $8,284,080 grant runs through next September.

What that buys in Illinois are 429 slots for children, and they are indeed filled. In addition, HHS also in fiscal 2014 — which started last October — was overseeing the care of 319 children released to family members living in Illinois.

The surge of children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatamala crossing into the U.S. in recent months has created a national emergency. In the coming days, Congress will take up President Barack Obama’s request for $3.7 billion to deal with the kids from Central America humanely and get them back home if they do not qualify to stay in the U.S.

Kenneth Wolfe, a spokesman for the HHS Children and Families Administration, said that HHS opened up temporary shelters on three military bases to house these kids. Shelters in other states have been around for years.

On Friday, Kirk changed his tune and instead said in a Chicago news conference that gangs — such as one called the MS-13 — are using the border children to distribute drugs.

So, it’s not quite like the kids had records to check.

Kirk’s informant on this subject is Republican Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who is running for governor. Besides cracking down on gangs, Kirk has also been on a crusade against sexual trafficking, and so is Abbott.

There is nothing wrong with Kirk’s anti-crime moves, but this time he’s doing it in a ham-handed way. He’s throwing away the good will he got in Latino communities for voting last year for the Senate bipartisan comprehensive immigration bill. And as Kirk heads towards his 2016 re-election bid, all he did Friday was create an ad against himself, as Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., blasted him for trying to paint these border kids as potential criminals. If Kirk had concerns about criminal activity, he could have called the cops.

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