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New York Confronts the Immigration Mess: What Will Progressives Do?

07/15/2014 01:23 pm ET | Updated Sep 14, 2014
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Much of the country, and most blue states, have experienced the immigration crisis from a distance. The red states of Arizona and Texas have been the situs of the actual crisis, most particularly in recent weeks when tens of thousands of Central American children have crossed the border. The reasons can be debated, the finger can be pointed, but there's a human catastrophe underway that should transcend our well-known political divisions.

Now the immigration crisis is finally moving into the blue states, particularly the bluest of states, New York. New York understands the new reality of immigration. No state has had more intense immigration in recent decades. Almost 40 percent of New York City residents are immigrants, over 3 million souls who now populate dozens of thriving new ethnic neighborhoods.

The New York experience doesn't have the TV value of the wave of unaccompanied children crossing the US border in violation of immigration statutes. Predictable fault lines have emerged, along with a couple of strange bedfellows. (We're going to hear about the Obama-Rick Perry meeting for a long time.) For some, it's just a breakdown of law and order. For others, it's a moral challenge beyond ideology. And, quite reasonably, opponents of immigration are waiting to see how Progressive states react to requests to share the burden. Especially New York.

The Feds have begun to seek locations in New York and around the country to house these kids, even as the wheels of justice grinds them up. Some will be placed with relatives, others in foster care facilities. Even as we speak, social and political choices are being made across the Empire State that will define the Progressive stand on immigration better than any tea party/liberal shouting match.

Upstate cities are being targeted. So far -- and it's early -- New York's political leadership is sticking to the oft-trumpeted values of compassion and welcome. Most notable is the reaction of the Mayor of Syracuse, Stephanie Miner. Syracuse is a gritty, Rust Belt-ish industrial city that has suffered from economic decline and social re-imagining. It's economic future no longer relies on vanished industrial corporations like Carrier Air Conditioning, but on the trickle down economic benefits of Syracuse University.

Last week the Feds approached Mayor Miner to feel out the city's reaction to the use of an old convent owned by the Archdiocese to house hundreds of kids.

She didn't hesitate: "We're all part of the same human family. Syracuse will do whatever we can to help these children, while the law and politics work their way to some kind of permanent resolution. We won't walk away from the human tragedy that could occur." She didn't check which way the wind was blowing, or hide until things got clear. That's leadership.

A coalition between a big-city mayor and an Archdiocese acting on the values of a new pope can be a wonderful, and powerful thing. It's an example that should be copied by other liberal, blue state leaders. There's a while to go for sure, but the first reaction by New York's political leadership is in the great progressive tradition of FDR, Nelson Rockefeller and Pat Moynihan.

And one other person.

New York hosts the Statue of Liberty, a figure of importance in our cosmos. Remember what she carries on her person, as she looks out, across our border:

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me."

The biggest challenges to our values and integrity often come unexpectedly. Stephanie Miner has apparently read and remembered these words and met the challenge. I hope the Feds take her up on her offer, and that the people of Syracuse and elsewhere in New York step up and welcome these kids. And that other American communities, blue, red or purple, whatever their ideology, do the same.

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