Georgia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:
Augusta Chronicle on the death of a 7-year-old migrant girl in U.S. Border Patrol custody:
First of all, her name is Jakelin.
She and her father were part of a large group of migrants detained Dec. 6 near a remote border crossing in New Mexico. Members of the group were sent by bus to the nearest Border Patrol station, but Jakelin began vomiting and stopped breathing. She later died at a Texas hospital.
Those facts aren’t in dispute. But here’s where different conclusions come into play.
Border Patrol officials said they did everything they could to save Jakelin, but she hadn’t had food or water for days. They perform health screenings on detainees, and Jakelin showed no signs of health problems.
Members of Jakelin’s family dispute that food-and-water claim. They also said that even though her father signed a form stating Jakelin was in good health, the form was in English, and 29-year-old Nery Gilberto Caal Cuz doesn’t speak or read English. He spoke with border agents in Spanish, and his main language is Q’eqchi’, a Mayan language spoken by about 800,000 people.
Before tempers flare further and emotions spiral this debate out of control, as sides argue over the frail body of an innocent, adorable girl, let’s take a necessary look at the bigger picture.
Jakelin shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Jakelin’s mother and three siblings still are in their tiny Guatemalan village, described in news accounts as “intensely poor.” But the father, struggling to provide for his family, decided the best course of action was to take his daughter on a physically and emotionally dangerous journey across the entire length of Mexico, with no guarantee of it ending well — to a country where he didn’t know the language, and with no concrete promise of employment.
We don’t question this father’s love. We question his judgment.
Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller rightly summed up the episode on CBS as “a painful reminder of the ongoing humanitarian tragedy that is illegal immigration and the misery that it spreads.”
Former U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz agreed: “The sad reality of this is that we have a 7-year-old girl that’s died. She should have never, ever made that journey. That should be the message. Don’t make this journey. It will kill you.”
“Jakelin’s family is urging authorities to conduct an ‘objective and thorough’ investigation into the death and to determine whether officials met standards for the arrest and custody of children,” the AP reported.
We agree. A large part of why Jakelin’s death has grabbed international headlines is because it’s such a rare occurrence. Her family and our government need to know how this happened, and how to help assure it won’t happen again.
But America’s guarded border with Mexico shouldn’t be viewed as a comfortable pillow on which illegal migrants can land safely. It’s meant to accommodate the overwhelming majority of illegal migrants — single adult men.
It’s meant as a deterrent, and a stern reminder that immigration is a process to be pursued legally — without endangering innocent lives like Jakelin’s.
The Savannah Morning News on Brian Kemp’s comments before state senators and representatives:
Governor-elect Brian Kemp has put away his shotgun and is instead pointing something else at those around him.
A welcoming hand, eager for a firm shake.
Kemp struck an encouraging tone — some might even call it gubernatorial — in addressing Georgia lawmakers last week. He’s made several speeches since defeating Stacey Abrams in the Nov. 6 general election, but most of those involved the disputed results or the work of his transition team.
Kemp’s comments at the Biennial, a gathering of state senators and representatives held in advance of the start of the legislative session, suggest he plans to lead from the middle rather than the right flank, where he campaigned. He also shelved the deplorable rhetoric, such as that involving his shotgun, his pickup truck and his chainsaw.
“It’s time to shed the labels and work together as Georgians. It’s time to stand up for our communities, our families and our Georgia values,” he said. “It’s time to protect the vulnerable. It’s time to do the right thing — even when no one is looking.”
Kemp is on the right track. His Biennial speech made no mention of the cultural issues that he embraced on his way to winning a primary runoff and the general election. He touched instead on healthcare, education and lifting the state’s rural communities.
He also addressed immigration, but took a narrow tact, fixating on gang activity tied to drug cartels. The distinction between drug-runners and law-abiding migrants is an important one.
Kemp made clear his top priority is to grow the state’s economy, building on Gov. Nathan Deal’s success at adding jobs. He announced the creation of a Georgians First Committee, led by business leaders, which will examine the impact of taxes and regulations and suggest other areas of economic opportunity.
The vision Kemp shared in a relatively brief span — 11 minutes or so — involved partisan issues but lacked partisan divisiveness.
His message and delivery are promising because he didn’t need to take such a conciliatory approach. His party, the Republicans, control both the Senate and the House in the Georgia General Assembly, as well as all statewide constitutional offices.
Still, seeing Kemp as a consensus builder and not an antagonist will require an adjustment period. A handful of Democrats boycotted his speech, although party leadership successfully blocked a threatened walkout.
The Biennial speech sets a tone for the Kemp’s tenure as governor. Count this editorial board among those who hope this Kemp, not the one we saw and heard during the campaign, is the leader we can expect starting Jan. 14.
Georgia’s lieutenant governor-elect, Geoff Duncan, summarized Georgians’ aspirations for Kemp in introducing him to lawmakers: “Anybody who has ever been around Brian understands that he didn’t get into this to make a point; he got into this to make a difference.”
Come next month, success for Kemp won’t be measured at the ballot box, but in the state’s prosperity. He seems to understand a handshake, not a firearm, brings empowerment.
The Savannah Morning News on the Farm Bill and fruit growers:
The Farm Bill resembles a popular roadside produce stand or neighborhood farmers market, stocked with treats to please the multitudes.
The legislation is valued at $867 billion and includes support for growers and raisers of wide-ranging agricultural products, from livestock to nuts and cotton to hemp. The aid is particularly important this year due to the impact of both natural and man-made disasters — inclement weather is to blame for the former; a trade war with China the other.
American agriculture faces a situation so untenable that the Farm Bill received overwhelmingly bipartisan support, passing the Senate by an 87-13 vote and the House 386-47. President Donald Trump is expected to make the measure into law with his signature sometime this week.
Passage won’t lead every farmer to celebrate, though. One local group of growers will feel as blue as their crops.
Blueberry farmers, along with growers of another popular local fruit, peaches, get no assistance from the farm bill. The omission is as perplexing as it is glaring, particularly given the relief extended to those who raise other local cash crops, such as cotton, peanuts and pecans, and the weather-related blows the fruit growers have absorbed the past two years.
The devastating combination of warm winters and spring freezes the past two years have led to combined statewide losses estimated at $700 million for blueberry growers. Here in Chatham County, Ottawa Farms lost approximately 50 percent of its crop this year after suffering a total loss in 2017.
The same can be said at blueberry farms along Georgia’s coastal region. The losses have been so significant that Rep. Buddy Carter made aid for fruit growers one of his top campaign priorities in his successful re-election this fall. He considers the back-to-back poor harvests an “unprecedented disaster” for blueberry farmers.
When the Farm Bill, sans blueberry aid, moved from the House Committee on Agriculture to the full chamber for debate and vote, Carter redoubled his efforts. He reached out to the committee’s three Georgians, including fellow Republicans Rick Allen and Austin Scott, regarding why the relief funding was removed.
Receiving no satisfactory answers to his queries, Carter voted against the legislation.
“Unfortunately, the Farm Bill brought to the House floor today was not one I could support. It simply does not support Georgia growers,” Carter said in a prepared release.
Lawmakers have fertile soil to grow the case for Georgia blueberry farmers.
Georgia is among the top blueberry producing states in America, with more than 20,000 acres of farmland dedicated to the crop. Southeast Georgia’s sandy, acidic soils produce flavorful berries and the typical winter and spring weather cycles suit the fruit’s growing season.
Optimal blueberry conditions call for at least two weeks of “chill hours,” or days with sustained temperatures below 40 degrees. Warm winters lead to early blooming, which makes the crop susceptible to damage from a spring freeze.
This area saw exactly those circumstances in 2017 and 2018. The 2017 freeze cut a projected 120-million-pound harvest to 30 million pounds. Production was in that same ballpark — or farm field — this year.
The blueberry crop is important to our state and region’s economy. We encourage local residents to support Georgia’s senators’ and Rep. Carter’s efforts to secure disaster relief funding for our forgotten farmers.