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“But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:14

A public meeting about a proposal by a church to temporarily house immigrant children turned into a heated standoff between church leaders and outraged community members.

The Rev. Dennis Walker of Holy Cross Lutheran Church in suburban Commack, New York, cited Bible passages about welcoming the stranger and referred to the United States’ history as an immigrant nation to try to rally support for the church’s proposal to host some of the tens of thousands of immigrant children crossing the United States’ border with Mexico mainly to reunite with family here.

The proposal called for about 40 children, aged 4 to 17, to be housed at the church for between seven and 30 days at a time. The children would be in transit from federal immigration detention facilities to relatives in the New York area, and would only leave church property for medical appointments or other important issues. The children would be subject to hearings before federal immigration authorities and could ultimately be deported.

“We are an immigrant nation. We are an immigrant church,” Walker told the standing-room-only crowd that filled the meeting room at the local public library and spilled into the hallway.

But the Reverend’s comments and those of another pastor, as well as the head of a program housing immigrant children in the nearby town of Syosset, was not what the crowd wanted to hear.

Commack is a predominantly white, predominantly middle class bedroom community some 30 miles east of New York City. A rural farming town until its population exploded in the post-war suburban migration of the 1950s and 1960s, Commack is a sprawl of cookie-cutter neighborhoods and aging shopping centers. Ironically, the town’s name is a legacy of its Secatogue Indian origins, although one would be hard-pressed to find any Native Americans living there today.

One by one, opponents of the church’s plan spoke passionately of their concerns and fears.

“We don’t want them, and we’re not going to tolerate them!” shouted a middle-aged man (“I’m a dentist!”) with an Italian surname as the crowd applauded.

“If you’re seeing this outrage… why don’t you just drop it and think of another solution?” pleaded a woman with an Italian, or perhaps Greek, surname.

A woman with a Hebrew first name and German last name offered to volunteer at the church to help develop other projects as long as they do not involve housing immigrants.

“The property is too small,” she implored. “It is not a safe environment for the children to be caged in like animals 24 hours a day. It’s inhumane.” Unlike the federal immigration detention facilities, one supposes.

Many in the audience expressed concerns that the children could bring crime, disease or gang activity.

Commack is a part of Smithtown Township. Smithtown is frequently described in the local newspaper as succumbing to the growing scourge of heroin use and trafficking by affluent, suburban white teens, although perhaps this is not the sort of crime the woman has in mind.

“It’s scary,” said another woman of Italian heritage who identified herself as a special-education teacher. “I have two little kids. Who’s to say my house is going to be safe?”

“It’s basically going to be a hotel right next to my house!” wailed a New York City firefighter with an English surname.

Rev. Walker defended the plan as the church’s opportunity “to do the Christian thing.”

But it the end, faced with a withering wall of opposition, Rev. Walker and the church shelved the plan. “Doing the Christian thing” won’t cut it in this town, and the good Reverend just got schooled.

“We saved Commack!” bellowed the dentist as the crowd filed out of the room at meeting’s end.

As his Italian immigrant ancestors might have put it, “Abbiamo salvato Commack!”

Or perhaps they wouldn’t have.

Originally posted to Richard Riis on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 08:44 AM PDT.

Also republished by Street Prophets .

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Comment Preferences

  •  Gosh, what a heartwarming bunch. :( n/t (9+ / 0-)

    "[T]he preservation of the means of knowledge among the lowest ranks is of more importance to the public than all the property of all the rich men in the country." - John Adams, A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law. (1765)

    by AnacharsisClootz on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 08:54:56 AM PDT

  •  This story hardly surprises me. (12+ / 0-)

    The natural nativism often found in small, largely homogenous communities has been groomed and encouraged from years of anti-immigrant rhetoric and propaganda about Islamic terrorists.

    I wonder how many of those people who expressed their vile opinions about this consider themselves to be "Christian"?

    I applaud the effort of the Pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran and his congregation. It's a shame actually trying to walk the walk of your faith could be met with such hatred and loathing. From people who's not-so-distant ancestors were also immigrants and from the examples in this diary, immigrants from places which caused them to be treated like second-class citizens once they got here.

    "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

    by commonmass on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 09:13:26 AM PDT

    •  betcha money those kids look Amerind (0+ / 0-)

      can't have that, can we?

      Reverend, I apologize.

       Your flock is lots of things. Christian ain't on the list. Have they hurt your feelings enough, yet, for you to see that and adjust your sermons accordingly?

      LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Steve Earle, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

      by BlackSheep1 on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 04:11:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Republished to Street Prophets. nt (5+ / 0-)
  •  I remember the bussing riots, it was the same (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jayden, blueoasis

    people, the same white faces, red with rage, saying the same things, the difference being that then we did the right thing, anyway.

    "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

    by Greyhound on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 10:11:47 AM PDT

  •  How do we have this (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    trivium, blueoasis, hbk

       "Inscription on the Statue of Liberty"

        Give me your tired, your poor,
        Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
        The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
        Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
        I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
        Author: Emma Lazarus

    And expect them not to come. We are a nation of immigrants, including the Indians. It seems unfair and unAmerican to try and cut it off now because they are not white, which I think is central to the baggers problems with these children.

    Never promote men who seek after a state-established religion; it is spiritual tyranny--the worst of despotism. It is turnpiking the way to heaven by human law, in order to establish ministerial gates to collect toll. John Leland

    by J Edward on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 11:12:13 AM PDT

  •  If the relatives are known... (0+ / 0-)

    ...and willing to receive the kids, why is a transit facility called for?  If there's some doubt about it, then where's the guarantee that they'd only be there for 7 to 30 days?  

    It's not the side effects of the cocaine/I'm thinking that it must be love

    by Rich in PA on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 11:34:17 AM PDT

    •  Rich in PA: whatthehell difference does that make? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      are these kids?

      do they have family they're trying to rejoin?

      if the answer is yes, then a stopover should be an automatic "yes" too.


      LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Steve Earle, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

      by BlackSheep1 on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 04:13:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Not this mind and not this heart, I won't rot. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    And nothing rots either faster than fear.

  •  Heavy competition. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hbk, BelgianBastard

    Who will win the title of: "Most Pathetic, Un-Christian Excuse for a Community."  Commack may take that title.

  •  Something that's not clear to me: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, BelgianBastard

    Was the church membership in favor of the proposal?  (My church would've held a congregational meeting and voted on it before bringing it up in public.)  Or were the complainers also church members?  If a majority of the congregation were in favor, then they should go ahead and do it, and the complainers can go f*** themselves.  Or each other, I don't care.

    This .signature unintentionally left blank.

    by Avast Ye Swobbie on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 02:58:46 PM PDT

  •  That person... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    As his Italian immigrant ancestors might have put it, “Abbiamo salvato Commack!”
    ...probably doesn't even know the language.

    A million Arcosantis.

    by Villabolo on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 04:00:51 PM PDT

  •  Neighbors of the building, not necessarily (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blueoasis, hbk

    members of the congregation.

    The Rev. Dennis Walker says Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Commack would be able to pay off debts and create jobs if it took in about 40 children. But neighbors say the plan, details of which have yet to be released or approved, would be dangerous.

    “I’m not prejudiced, don’t get me wrong, but you know what, we have our own problems with our own people here,” said Jerry Baggetta, a retiree who spoke on the front porch of his home just up the street from the church property. “What are we going to have to do? Live like prisoners and lock our doors and everything else?”

    Oh, and get a load of this guy's looks:

    The caption:

    In this Aug. 13, 2014 photo, Jerry Baggetta poses for a photo outside his home in Commack, N.Y., on New York's Long Island. Baggetta is among a group of Commack residents opposing a proposal to bring as many as 40 unaccompanied immigrant children to be housed at the nearby Holy Cross Lutheran Church. (AP Photo/Frank Eltman)

    Read more:
    Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter

    LBJ, Lady Bird, Van Cliburn, Steve Earle, Ann Richards, Barbara Jordan, Molly Ivins, Jim Hightower, Sully Sullenburger, Drew Brees: Texas is NO Bush League!

    by BlackSheep1 on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 04:18:47 PM PDT

  •  Every child coming is a child of light, a child (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    hbk, BelgianBastard

    In desperate need.  What they are missing is the big picture.  By turning them away they are turning away themselves, one at a time.  Not knowing who is in each child's spirit, sadly they could be turning away their own savior.  

    Change is a process, not an event. ~ Joellen Killion

    by sabathiel on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 04:31:36 PM PDT

  •  It wasn't much better in Syracuse (0+ / 0-)

    The mayor and the Sisters of St. Francis offered two former convents and a former junior college building. The nuns have moved to a new building in the suburbs.

    A public meeting was held and there were protests.

    A poll by showed that nearly 50% of those who responded thought that children should not be housed anywhere in the US. 62% thought that the children should be deported and the borders "secured".

    A typical quote from the troglodytes that infest the comments...

    "I disagree with you Miner. I don't want illegals in my country... so why would I want them in my city?" wrote user "logical" in the comments on the story. "Why don't you worry about our underprivileged children who are here already?"

    In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry, and is generally considered to have been a bad move. -- Douglas Adams, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy

    by boriscleto on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 08:15:08 PM PDT

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