Full-time campaigner and part-time Governor Kristi Noem’s Twitter feed is a compendium of contradictions. Yesterday, the self-conceived next President of the United States declared that “Every child has a right to life” and celebrated her own legislative posturing to “protect life and to move the pro-life movement forward in court.” Today she shared another photo of her irresponsibly maskless cabinet meeting amidst a still unchecked pandemic and bragged, “In South Dakota, we roll out the red carpet for those who love freedom….”
There are thousands of children at the United States border whose parents find their children’s lives and freedom in such grave peril back home that they consider sending their beloved children north to the United States alone their best bet for preserving their lives and growing up in freedom. To those children in need, Kristi Noem says, Drop dead, you little terrorists:
Data on the number of “terrorists” intercepted at any United States port of entry is incomplete and unreliable. However, most of the terrorists posing the greatest threat to American national security, like the hundreds of terrorists arrested for mounting insurrection at the United States Capitol on January 6 and the hundreds more still on the lam, have been here all their lives.
And we’re not talking about terrorists. We’re talking about children, who Noem says have an absolute right to life, who now are in dire need of protection, whom South Dakota and the whole darn country are rich enough to protect, as we have done before, and as federal law and Christian ethics and common decency compel us to do.
South Dakota Voices for Peace calls Noem’s bleat “un-American, racist, and heartless.” Here’s their full, factual, and passionate response calling us to be better than the cold example set by our Governor:
In her tweet vilifying immigrants on Wednesday morning, Governor Kristi Noem failed to mention that the federal government requested that states provide shelter to unaccompanied immigrant children who are coming to our borders to seek refuge from violence such as rape, extortion, and abuse, as permitted by U.S. and international law.
SD Voices for Peace (SDVFP) is the only nonprofit in South Dakota which provides free legal services to unaccompanied immigrant children—children who did not travel to the border with a parent or guardian. Since 2014, over 500 unaccompanied immigrant children have been released to sponsors living in South Dakota, through a process overseen by the Office of Refugee Resettlement through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
One of our recent clients explained that when he was five years old, his abusive stepfather’s relative kidnapped him from school to use as a bargaining tool to silence his mother. He remembers his stepfather’s violence, and how he (the client) was scared to go to school, sleep alone, or even play outside. When he was seven, his mother packed his bags and sent him on a treacherous journey to the US to live in safety with his uncle. He has been living in South Dakota for several years now. He loves going to school, making friends, and playing outside. He has applied for asylum and has been waiting for 4 years for a response.
Governor Noem has no authority over federal immigration policies. Each child deemed an “unaccompanied minor” by the Department of Homeland Security has the legal right to go through the immigration process in hopes to obtain U.S. Citizenship. The process to obtain paperwork can take up to 10 years, and it is a lawful process. Seeking asylum is a human right.
In South Dakota, immigrants hold many different statuses; there are visa holders, lawful permanent residents, international students, visitors, U.S. citizens, agricultural workers, doctors and scientists, and those with no documented status. Immigrants in SD are our essential workers. During the COVID-19 pandemic they are the workers who fueled our agricultural economy and took care of our dying community members.
“South Dakota Governor’s tweet is un-American, racist and heartless. Her pattern of racism and bigotry towards immigrant communities is abhorrent,” said SDVFP Executive Director Taneeza Islam. “The wave of unaccompanied children at the southern border is not new, and has been happening for decades. She is pandering to her base to get some likes on Twitter, on the backs of innocent and extremely vulnerable children. The Biden Administration is asking for assistance from all states’ Departments of Health and Human Services so that these children do not have to stay in unsafe conditions at our southern border. Why can’t the governor choose life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for these children?” [South Dakotans for Peace, statement, 2021.04.14]
Choose life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all children—that’s what a reading of Noem’s happy tweets (not to mention the Constitution, the Bible, and the stories those children and their families can tell) would suggest is America’s moral mandate. But turn Kristi’s attention to not-yet-American kids and her rabid base that loves to hate, and the national campaigner turns positively un-American.
(But you know, those children are trying to escape fear, hatred, and tyranny. Maybe they are better off not being sent to places like South Dakota that are led by a fearful, hateful tyrant.)