DANA MILBANK: Give me a home where scapegoats roam

DANA MILBANK

DANA MILBANK

It’s August in the capital, quiet enough for scapegoats to roam freely. In fact, the mayor of Lynn, Massachusetts came for a visit on Wednesday and released a few of this breed in the heart of downtown, at the National Press Club. Hosted by a hard-line immigration group, the mayor, Judith Flanagan Kennedy, told an alarming tale about how unaccompanied minors emigrating illegally from Guatemala have caused havoc in her fair burg.

“The vast majority of them were claiming to be between 14 and 17 years old, but there were people with graying temples, hair around the temples, there were people with more wrinkles than I have around the eyes,” said Kennedy. “A lot of them,” she added, “were illiterate not only in English but also in Spanish and spoke a tribal dialect, a mountain dialect.”

The mayor said the number of “out of country” students enrolling in Lynn’s schools leaped from 54 in 2010-11 to 329 in 2011-12, 421 in 2012-13 and 538 in 2013-14. The surge – which the Republican mayor blames on federal policy under the Obama administration – has overwhelmed Lynn’s public health and trash-collection infrastructure, and huge education costs have caused her to eliminate a community policing program.

But upon closer inspection, Kennedy’s tale of woe doesn’t quite add up.

The Department of Health and Human Services, which handles the placement of unaccompanied minors, says 135 unaccompanied Guatemalan children were placed this year through July 31 in Lynn, a city of 90,000 with a sizable Guatemalan population.

Of those Guatemalan children who have come to Lynn, the mayor acknowledged, she doesn’t know “how many are refugees, how many are illegal immigrants including unaccompanied minors, and how many arrived legally.”

Kennedy admitted that Lynn was struggling to begin with (81 percent of the children in its schools receive subsidized lunches), and she noted that the influx of immigrants has had “a positive impact on the prices of our rental units and the availability of our rental units.”

Some of Lynn’s immigrants are minors who came illegally, and others are refugees from countries outside Central America. Many more – probably have come legally to join the city’s already thriving Guatemalan community.

The Center for Immigration Studies, which pushes for stricter immigration controls, advertised the meeting as a way to demonstrate how American towns far from the border are dealing “with this growing surge of Central American illegal immigrants, many of them ostensibly unaccompanied” minors, according to Mark Krikorian, the group’s director.

Kennedy also sounds a bit cold when complaining that “my health department” administered 159 vaccinations in July. In July 2011, it was 11. Aren’t more vaccinations a good thing?

“Speaking out about this, I have been called a racist,” Kennedy said. “I have been called a hater. That is not the case.”

No. She is just a humble goatherd.

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.