Dallas Has Been in the News Three Times This Year for Generosity and Tolerance. What the Heck Is Up with That?

Something recent and specific must be driving the surge of unaccompanied immigrant children across the Texas border with Mexico. It's reasonable and prudent for government to try to figure out what's behind it in order to stem the tide. But that's one thing. The other thing is this: The offer of Dallas County leaders to provide shelter for some of those children is morally brave. In fact it's music to the ears and a balm to the heart in this age of heartless and fearful selfishness.

After touring shelters in at the border yesterday, State Senator Royce West put his finger on the immediate moral dilemma: "The question you have to ask yourself is, do you believe that you are your brother's keeper?"

Yes, it's a mess. No, we can't simply respond passively and allow this grotesque Dickensian nightmare to continue. But those are not the first questions before us. The first question is exactly what West asked. What do we do with these children right now?

All of us in Dallas County should be fiercely proud. The people speaking for us at this moment are West, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, County Commissioners Theresa Daniel, Elba Garcia and John Wiley Price, as well as clergy including Frederick D. Haynes III, all of whom have pledged succor and shelter for the thousands of vulnerable children pouring across the border.

If the readers of the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia's oldest continuously published newspaper, remember the town of Murrieta, California, at all, probably it will be for the woman quoted in that newspaper this morning, screaming at busloads of immigrant children, "We don't want you! Nobody wants you!"

That's an expression of evil. Please, don't tell me about the complexities of the immigration issue. We're not there. That's not what this moment is about. As if you were a child on that bus, listen with your heart to what that woman is screaming at you. Assume that some kid on the bus translates it. Imagine that the message gets through to you. Who in God's name could say that to a child, a lost child wandering in danger without parents?

But that is exactly how several communities in Southern California and around the country have reacted to proposals for shelters. The fact is that Dallas County's opposite and generous reaction is anomalous. It's not how this issue is going in many other places. We should be doubly proud for that reason.

But this cry for decency is not anomalous here. Our mayor, Mike Rawlings, has attracted national attention and stature for his outspoken campaign against men who beat up women. If you think that's not such a difficult position to take, then tell me why other prominent men haven't been doing it and why Rawlings' activism has attracted so much attention.

Last February Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen also drew the national spotlight by speaking out effectively against homophobia in professional sports and the sports media. The response was huge, in part because Hansen's words of tolerance and decency were so rare.

Look, I don't think we should arrange our lives around what people in Sydney think of us, but if people in Sydney ever do think of us, they have three recent stories about Dallas to shape their thoughts -- Rawlings, Hansen and now the outreach to immigrant children. It's almost as if the world is hungry for expressions of generosity and tolerance, isn't it?

And, no, we're not in danger of becoming San Francisco any time soon. Umm, we're not really in danger of that happening ever. Dallas is still basically a very conservative place -- viewed that way by people elsewhere who happen to view us -- and maybe that adds to the power and piquancy of these gestures. Maybe the people of Southern California can look at us and say in their own hearts, "Wow, even Dallas is more compassionate than we are." That should be a wake-up call for anybody.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze