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Michaud: Immigrant kids draw American vitriol

Empty shoes are piled in Westbury during an

Empty shoes are piled in Westbury during an immigration rights rally by Make the Road NY on July 29, 2014. The shoes are meant to symbolize the thousands of families separated by what they believe to be a broken immigration system. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Call this the summer of our mean spirit.

I say this after reading the online comments about border children, particularly those that followed a news story by Newsday's Víctor Manuel Ramos about some of the kids arriving at a Syosset shelter. Founded as a Catholic orphanage, MercyFirst accepts federal money to, among other things, care for children awaiting immigration proceedings.

The ignorance, bitterness and hatred displayed rocked me to my core.

"Send them all back! Let Mexico handle there [sic] problems," read one comment, boorishly ignorant of the fact that the immigrants have fled not Mexico but mostly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

"Just want to thank all you dems and non voters for this," wrote another person. "I bust my butt every day to make money and put my kids in a great school and you morons vote to take it from me."

Self-pitying, cheated victimhood. That's the mood not only here but also in other places far from the U.S. Southern border. Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, protested the federal government's placement, without his knowledge, of eight border children at a shelter in his state.

"If we have eight kids in the state right now and if there are any state dollars going there, there are eight Mainers not getting services," he said during a visit to a homeless shelter.

I can picture that shelter shoving eight Maine kids out the back door as we speak. LePage's irresponsible exaggeration is playing to an eager audience of mean-spirited potential voters. You gotta love an election year.

The vitriol over the 57,000 children streaming across the border is partly about race hatred. Here's another comment from "We have to wake up and retake our country back, we are losing are [sic] culture and European heritage before it's to [sic] late."

But the opposition is not entirely racist. Some is sincere concern about how our economy, especially the public schools, could absorb so many who presumably don't speak English or have much formal education.

Then there's a third category: those who simply feel pushed too far. They're not only incensed about immigrant children sucking up federal dollars, but anyone who has an unfair advantage, including the famed 1 percent.

A man commented on that he and his wife were being taxed out of their home because of generous government spending. Another responded, "I can't imagine losing my home to foreclosure knowing the likes of Jamie Daimon [sic]/Chase or Lloyd Blankfein/Goldman will profit by flipping the ranch to house illegals."

The writer and others resent the bankers, who they see as having wrecked the economy, avoided prosecution and gone back to scheming about how to boost their stock values; the corporations that move assets offshore to avoid paying billions in U.S. taxes; and Washington's cowardice to right any of this.

Here's another comment from this group: "Bev hills, Palm Springs, Upper West Side . . . anywhere the liberal of most liberal glitterati live. Hyannisport, Vineyard, lovely this time of year!"

This attitude is a typical reaction not just to immigration, but to any issue that chips away at people's finances: school zone speed cameras, higher insurance premiums, increased fees for permits or parking.

We haven't always sunk to such mean-spirited public depths, even in anonymous online forums. Are we discouraged by this prolonged wretched economy that doesn't seem to bounce back -- despite recent good news about job growth? People just aren't feeling it at home.

Anne Michaud is the interactive editor for Newsday Opinion.