Kadner: Military vehicles alarm Southland
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org July 22, 2014 6:00PM
Military vehicles line one of the parking lots at Oak Forest Health Center, Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014, in Oak Forest. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 24, 2014 6:28AM
“The immigrants are coming! They’re bringing children from Central America here!”
That was the cry that arose from some panicked Southland residents this week after more than 100 military vehicles suddenly appeared on the campus of Cook County’s Oak Forest Health Center, 159th Street and Cicero Avenue.
“I’m almost 100 percent positive they will be shipping all the illegals from Mexico by the hundreds of thousands there ...” one man emailed, sending a photo of the vehicles to illustrate his point.
Others called the SouthtownStar convinced that teenage immigrants from Central America soon would be camped out on the grounds of what used to be Oak Forest Hospital.
The truth, it turns out, is much more mundane.
“Last month, the Cook County Board approved a one-year intergovernmental agreement with the state of Illinois Military Affairs Division to park vehicles in two areas of the Oak Forest Health Center campus during construction at their existing (National Guard) site,” a spokeswoman for Cook County said. “They’re paying a monthly fee to the county to use the land for storage.”
Certain that such a disclaimer would not be believed by skeptics in the south suburbs, I called Major Lenny Williams, the intergovernmental affairs liaison for the Illinois National Guard.
“We’re paving the parking lot at our facility (an armory) at 139th Street and Pulaski in Crestwood, and we needed a place to put some vehicles for the next few weeks,” Williams said. “We sent many of our vehicles to some of our other Guard facilities in the area, but there just wasn’t enough room for them all.”
Williams estimated the number of vehicles parked west of the guard shack on the Oak Forest campus at “100, maybe more.”
It’s an impressive sight, all those military vehicles lined up in one place, so I can see how it would catch the attention of anyone passing by.
And I guess all the news reports about confrontations between angry citizens out West and trucks transporting teenage immigrants from Central America has more people riled up than I imagined.
Williams said there had been so many calls from “interested civilians” that the Illinois National Guard was contemplating putting out a news release Tuesday to clarify the issue.
I’m guessing if people were told the illegals were coming to the suburbs but would be landscaping suburban lawns, there might not have been as much concern.
No one seems to ask many questions about the hundreds of Hispanic men trimming trees, mowing lawns and edging hedges in the Southland. So long as they work for cash and work cheap, it’s a good deal for everybody.
One of the people who was certain that the county was bringing in illegal immigrants wanted to remind people that when Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana several years ago, some victims were housed on the grounds of the former county hospital in Oak Forest.
Well, that’s not true.
The victims of Katrina were housed in an abandoned building on the grounds of the state’s Tinley Park Mental Health Center. Hundreds of volunteers showed up to assist them, and this newspaper wrote many articles about the efforts to aid fellow humans in distress.
It was a “feel good” story because people were putting aside their problems to assist people who had lost their homes and had nowhere to go.
A lot of these children from Central America are in a similar situation. Due to drug gangs, corrupt governments and oppressive poverty, these children have trekked hundreds of miles to the United States.
Some have family members here. Others allegedly were sent north by parents afraid that their children would be forced to work for the drug cartels or murdered if they refused.
Some of our fellow citizens (I almost said Americans, but these children are Americans, too), don’t believe any of that. They believe these children are simply coming across the border illegally to make a better life for themselves.
Well, what’s so awful about that? My ancestors came here for pretty much the same reasons, and chances are that yours did as well.
As for inability of the U.S. government to stop immigrants at the Mexican border, that’s an issue that ought to be debated, discussed and investigated.
But we have nothing to fear from these children who are merely looking for a safe place to live. If not for the grace of God, as the saying goes, our children might find themselves in a similar predicament.
None of us gets to choose our parents or our place of birth.
As for the sight of military vehicles scaring people, imagine what life would be like in a country where those vehicles are manned by hostile government forces intent on doing harm to anyone considered a threat to those in power. There are a lot of nations like that in the world right now.
We’re lucky. And sharing some of that good fortune, or at least showing people a little kindness, might not be the worst thing that ever happened to this country.
Why there’s so much fear among so many in a nation that has so much (even in the aftermath of the Great Recession) is both baffling and troubling.
I’m reminded of the old rich guy living in a house surrounded by stone walls at the top of a hill who’s afraid to come out because of his belief that the villagers living in poverty are just waiting for the chance to steal his wealth.
There may be some truth to that. Maybe not.
As the poet Sam Walter Foss wrote, “There are hermit souls that live withdrawn in the peace of their self content. There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart, in a fellowless firmament.
“There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths, where highways never ran; but let me live by the side of the road, and be a friend to man.”
For those who take another view, be assured that there is no immigration crisis in the Southland.