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Yvonne Abraham

Some elected officials using border crisis to score points

What an embarrassing cavalcade of small-mindedness we’ve seen around here since the governor said Massachusetts might help house some of the children who have flooded over the border in recent months.

For example, Bourne residents are verklempt over the idea that the mostly Central American kids, who would be housed at federal expense in a secure facility at Camp Edwards, will ruin their lovely town. They fear for their own children’s safety, because, as one man put it, “these people don’t have the same culture we have here.”

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If that’s his culture, he can keep it. Even more maddening, though, is the way some elected officials are using the crisis to score points, playing to their constituents’ baser instincts.

We have a lot of so-called leaders to choose from here. But really, when it comes to using desperate children to advance one’s political fortunes, you can’t beat Ryan Fattman, the Republican state representative from Webster.

I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for the phenom that is Fattman. I fear I am partly responsible. Back in 2010, just after he won his seat, I wrote a column about him. I called him “cherubic.” I worry that that taste of the media spotlight made Fattman an addict. Because ever since, he has been all about grabbing headlines, usually by pandering to the knuckle draggers.

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Less than a year after he was elected, Fattman waded into the controversy over whether local police should enforce immigration law. He said he wasn’t bothered by the idea that undocumented women who are raped and beaten would be afraid to go to police after they were attacked.

“My thought is that if someone is here illegally, they should be afraid to come forward,” Fattman told the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Way to win the votes of people with hearts, sir! After national criticism rained down, Fattman made lame attempts to walk back his remarks. But if you’re an ambitious Republican in a conservative district, the menace of illegal immigration is the gift that keeps on giving.

Now Fattman wants to be a state senator. He’s running against veteran incumbent Dick Moore of Uxbridge, a man with whom I disagree on plenty, but who has an impressive command of complicated issues, including health care. Fattman can’t beat Moore on that front, so he’s trying to out-xenophobe him. On Wednesday, Fattman filed a resolution urging the governor not to shelter unaccompanied minors in Massachusetts. He told the House that the plight of those children “breaks all our hearts,” then urged that the state slam the door in their faces, calling them a risk to public health and safety.

Aw, the softie! The resolution tanked, but Fattman (who did not return my call) is still getting mileage out of it, complaining that the Legislature thought it more important to designate an official groundhog than vote on his resolution.

I take exception to this. First, I will not have anybody denigrate Ms. G, the groundhog in question. Second, the groundhog thing is more serious, and bears a closer connection to reality, than Fattman’s resolution, which conjures a fictional flood of diseased invaders sucking away state resources.

In fact, the children should only be here for a matter of weeks, as the federal government processes their cases. They will be fed and educated on site, at federal (not municipal or state) expense. A small fraction of them will then land in our cities and towns while they await the deportation hearings required by law. But that would be true wherever they were held — Bourne, Mass., or McAllen, Texas. Once released from federal custody, they are sent to the state where there are relatives or foster parents waiting.

Now, Fattman and his fellow fulminators might not like that, in which case they can demand repeal of the US law requiring hearings before deportations. But they can’t pretend that Massachusetts housing kids in the meantime is a big risk, or will change anything. It won’t.

It’s possible Fattman and his ilk are too dense to understand this.

My bet? They get it, and they just don’t care.

Related coverage:

A child’s harrowing journey to the US

Vennochi: Patrick’s immigrant plan doesn’t add up

Weiss: The myths of illegal immigration

Protesters blast plan to bring immigrant children to Mass.

Protesters blast plan to bring immigrant children to Mass.

Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at abraham@globe.com.
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