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Rhetoric trumps solutions on immigration

by Daily Inter Lake
| May 5, 2024 12:00 AM

A group of immigrants’ arrival to the Flathead Valley on Wednesday has raised more questions than answers. What hasn’t been lacking is inflammatory rhetoric from politicians eager to make hay of a situation they still know very little about.

Let’s sort through the facts, or at least what we’ve been told.

In a letter to the Inter Lake, Flathead County Commissioner Randy Brodehl says his sources told him that two families from Venezuela who crossed into the U.S. illegally were flown to New York by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s office. 

Abbott spearheaded Operation Lone Star in 2022, in which Texas transports migrants who enter the U.S. illegally to so-called sanctuary cities. Since the effort was launched, Texas has bussed more than 100,000 immigrants to New York City, Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. 

While busing has been Abbott’s preferred mode of transport, in December 2023, Texas chartered a plane to send 100 migrants to Chicago. Likewise, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in 2022 chartered a plane that sent 50 Venezuelans from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard. 

Some sanctuary cities have fashioned their own response to the influx of immigrants to their cities. In New York City, Mayor Eric Adams began a “reticketing” program that provides these people with plane fares to anywhere in the world.

In some cases, migrants have been sent to cities by unknown entities. Last year, 16 Venezuelan and Colombian immigrants were flown on a charter plane to Sacramento and dropped off outside of a church. According to a CBS News report, these people were processed by immigration officials and given court dates for their asylum cases when “individuals representing a private contractor” approached them outside a migrant center in El Paso, Texas and offered help finding work.

Essentially, the crisis on the southern border — yes, it’s a crisis — has led to a seemingly perpetual shuffling of migrants from one city to the next. And last week, Kalispell happened to become two families’ latest destination.

According to Sheriff Brian Heino, the group somehow ended up on the doorstep of the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office after trying to find lodging at an area homeless shelter. Heino said that officials were working to connect the family with services when representatives of Valley Neighbors, a volunteer nonprofit group that works to welcome and support immigrants to the region, arrived to provide assistance.

Heino told the Inter Lake he had no evidence to link the nonprofit to the family’s arrival in Kalispell, and in his letter, Brodehl said he doesn’t know how the immigrants arrived here either.

Nonetheless, a deluge of campaign-style press releases were fired off from Montana politicians on Thursday evening, making various claims about how the family or families came to the valley, while offering zero evidence. 

Rep. Matt Rosendale asserted they were “secretly flown” into Kalispell by the Biden administration, and then linked to our reporting that offered no verification of that claim.

Republican Senate candidate Tim Sheehy concurred that the White House flew them here, while Gov. Greg Gianforte insinuated as much.

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke’s statement accused Valley Neighbors of working with the Biden administration to import migrants into the state.

“The only way an illegal immigrant from South America ends up in Montana is if a ‘nonprofit’ connected with the Biden administration moves them there,” Zinke said without evidence.

Apparently in the haste to hit to inboxes with a hot political take, the congressman didn’t have time to actually contact Valley Neighbors.

But we did, and here’s what the organization said about their involvement:

“Valley Neighbors of the Flathead is a small community-supported nonprofit organization that provides humanitarian aid for immigrants in the Flathead Valley. As sometimes occurs, this week, we were made aware of an immigrant family in need after their arrival and responded by providing them assistance in accordance with our mission and the support of our community.” 

Their statement continued:

“We are saddened that our organization and the vulnerable families that we work with are being targeted and used for political gain through ill-informed and false statements made by some of our state’s elected officials.”

The fact is, we don’t know how these families arrived here. But in the clamor to score campaign points, unfounded claims and outright lies were spewed by elected officials and political hopefuls alike — a shameful and potentially harmful tactic. These are people, not political props.

Heino makes some excellent points in his op-ed today about how illegal immigration is already affecting the valley. It is a serious issue that this area is ill equipped to manage. Our elected leaders need to be talking about that, and figuring out how the White House and Congress can finally compromise on meaningful border security legislation.

If only politicians would put the same energy into finding solutions as they do their bluster.