Harsh criticism of Gov. Dave Heineman flowed freely during a Capitol Rotunda news conference held by Latino advocates who object to the governor’s stance on the estimated 200 illegal immigrant children now house in Nebraska.
In fact, the news conference began with moderator Ben Salazar of Omaha stating he never called Gov. Heineman a racist.
“So, let me set the record straight,” Salazar told reporters. “I don’t recall calling the governor a racist. I may have used the word ‘bigot’. Just to clarify the record: bigotry.”
Salazar and others accused the governor of not caring about the children, because they come from Central America.
The children are part of the more than 50,000 children who have crossed the southern border illegally, unaccompanied by adults. Most seem to have come into the country from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Gov. Heineman has demanded the federal government tell the state where they have been placed and with whom. Federal officials have so far refused to answer any of the governor’s questions.
The Nebraska chamber of the American Civil Liberties Union criticized the governor’s stance. The governor countered.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha took aim at Heineman’s response to the ACLU.
“And whereas he referred to the ACLU as a left-leaning liberal group, I could in all honesty refer to him as a right-wing ideologue, who is narrow minded, bigoted, political, without an ounce of what they call Christian charity or morality,” according to Chambers.
Chambers said the governor’s stance should disqualify him for consideration as the next president of the University of Nebraska.
Salazar rejoined the criticism, widening it to include not just Heineman, but Sen. Mike Johanns, Sen. Deb Fischer, Congressman Lee Terry, and Congressman Adrian Smith who joined Heineman in writing the Secretary of Health and Human Services, asking for information on the children.
“The one word that I think is an apt description also is cowardly. These are the utterances and words of cowards. They think two or three hundred children are going to rob them of their hot dogs?”
Salazar added Nebraska should welcome the children.
“These children can be housed in Nebraska safely, comfortably, and I know in our communities, especially communities of color, doors will open, arms will open to embrace them,” according to Salazar.
Lawyer Shirl Mora James, an immigration attorney from Lincoln, asserted that more than half the children would qualify as refugees and be allowed to stay.
“I have one question for the governor. Would he be sending these children back if these children came from Greece like his wife’s ancestors did?” James asked. “I would dare say he probably would not.”
The Obama Administration has signaled that it plans to deport most of the minors. President Barack Obama has asked Congress for emergency appropriations to speed up the immigration process for the children.
Gov. Heineman’s office released a statement following the news conference:
“According to federal law, the children in question are unaccompanied alien children. The ACLU and others are trying to divert attention from that fact.
This is an issue of transparency and protecting the integrity of taxpayer funded benefits. The State of Nebraska can’t ensure that any illegal individual is not getting taxpayer funded benefits if we don’t know who they are.
The question for Senator Chambers, the ACLU and others is, why do you favor secrecy in government instead of transparency. What is the federal government hiding?”
AUDIO: Ben Salazar of Omaha opens the news conference. [4 mn.]