Newton commission votes to not support undocumented children request

Published On: Aug 06 2014 11:03:15 AM CDT   Updated On: Aug 01 2014 09:43:41 PM CDT
NEWTON, Kan. -

An overflowing crowd Friday urged Newton city leaders not to support a plan to bring undocumented immigrant children to town.

"I don't want Newton to be labeled as a racist town. We are not racist," said one man who opposed the proposal. "This is not an issue of race, this is an issue of law."

"Buy them a plane ticket, put them right back on the plane and get them right back home," said another man who spoke before the four Newton City Commissioners over the noon hour.

The special commission meeting came after a last-minute request from the charity that now runs Youthville, EmberHope. It wanted the city to write a letter supporting its grant application for money to bring some of the immigrant children to it's Newton campus.

Despite the last minute nature of the meeting the room was so packed some people had to move to an overflow room across the hall. Some had only learned about the special meeting, and the reason for it, hours earlier.

They came to make sure the commission knew how they felt about the idea of bringing to town some of the thousands of undocumented children immigrants flooding the country's southern border.

"These people are being dumped on the border. Some of them have criminal backgrounds," said one man.

Another ended his statement with, "And if you all do this, I will pack my family up on horseback, I will throw the in a wagon and we will haul our happy rears right on out of town."

EmberHope CEO Shelley Duncan told the commissioners, "While I understand this is a controversial issue, our focus is really just fulfilling our mission which is to help children in need."

EmberHope says it's asking for the federal grant to provide housing for up to 30 of the undocumented immigrant children at a time while they're waiting for their immigration cases to be handled.  Each child would stay at the Youthville facilities about four to six weeks on a rotating basis over the next three years.

Only one person spoke out during the meeting in favor of the plan.

"I want to remind you that we're talking about children. And whatever context we frame this, we are still talking about children," she said.  Then she added, "I tell you that every time I think about this, I think about, 'Whatsoever you do for the least of these you do for me.'"

A letter of recommendation from the city is not required as part of the grant application. After hearing from everyone who wanted to talk, the commission unanimously denied the request.  The vote was greeted by applause.

"I don't think that really what we heard today is balanced in terms of what Newton as a community would say," said Amy Lippoldt, a United Methodist Minister from Newton. She wanted to speak out in favor of the plan, but arrived to late to get on the list.

Part of the reason for the last minute meeting is because EmberHope only began working on the application a few weeks.

The non-profit is applying now because Catholic Charities of Wichita, which EmberHope had expected to apply, couldn't because they didn't have any place for the children to stay.

The grant application is due Monday, August 4th. EmberHope must decide before then whether to move ahead without the support letter from the city.