Letter from the Editor

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Help for an immigrant child

When it looked like the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors was going to refuse to help a little boy get help for his hearing loss from a personal trust that is in place to fill just such a need, my reaction was - well, I can't print what my reaction was.

With expletives deleted, it might have gone something like this:

If the needy boy's name was Jones, and his skin was pink, would we be raising a fuss about the legal status of the child's parents? Would we even think to ask? Or would we just smile and hand over the check to fix his ears and be pleased that we have the resources to help?

Cooler heads seem to be prevailing at the courthouse, and as the discussions go on, it is clear to me that racial discrimination is a not a factor.

Looking at it from the county board's point of view, their concerns are valid. They are intrusted with a limited amount of funds in the Buckingham Trust to help needy children with medical needs, and if the word would get out that BV County has money to hand out for transient families with no insurance, the little fund could be drained in a hurry.

One supervisor repeatedly asks why the county officials should "subsidize" the "illegals" (and we don't know the exact status of the family in question). Another points out that whatever the status of the parents may be, a small child should not be penalized.

Taking care of a child should take precedence over a political stance. Helping a child to hear in our local classroom isn't an endorsement of illegal immigration.

The board of supervisors has considered a motion that would allow the trust funds to be used only for "legal" residents of the county. In past INS actions in the area, we have learned that it isn't that simple - there is a lot of gray area in immigration, it seems. There are cases where a child is born in the U.S. as a citizen, of parents who may or may not be legal. There are complex visa and work permit situations, pending hearing situations, lack of documentation situations, refugee situations, cases in which one parent may be legal and the other undocumented. It can take months to sort out in court.

Meanwhile, if a little boy can't hear his teacher speak, and falls behind in his education - we may create a gap that may be hard to ever make up.

The Buckingham Trust is not the county's money to create new stipulations on. It was money left by an Alta farmer who had no children of his own, and wanted to use his savings to help kids in medical need who had no where else to turn. He trusted county officials to hand it our judiciously, and they have. The fund has survived and modestly grown for 30 years, even as it has helped a number of needy families. Supervisors should be praised for that.

Though it was set up in a simpler time, the intentions are plainly stated in the original trust document: The funds "are to be held by said supervisors in trust for children residing in Buena Vista County, Iowa, for the purpose of paying medical, hospital and other related medical expenses such as orthopedic devices for children who would otherwise by unable to pay for same."

Mr. Buckingham didn't stipulate the help to be based on working status or ethnic background of the parent, but only to the need of the child, and so it should be.

Supervisors don't have a right to change the stipulations the man left in his own personal will, for his own personal funds.

I think Lorna Burnside said it well. "This child didn't choose to come here. This child needs medical help. Sometimes you just have to do the right thing."

I trust the board will do just that.