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Letter: Many on LI want to help border kids

This is the campus of the nonprofit MercyFirst

This is the campus of the nonprofit MercyFirst in Syosset July 26, 2014. Unaccompanied immigrant children are being sent to MercyFirst, which runs shelters for children. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

I read the column about the reaction of some readers to an article about our program at MercyFirst that provides safety and housing to children fleeing violence in Central America ["Immigrant kids and American vitriol," Opinion, July 31]. If one were to gauge the spirit of our times by such comments, there would be little reason to call it anything other than what the column did: a racist reaction and a foul mood greeting news of kids given shelter on Long Island.

I must say those comments are no different than how some people respond to other hot-button issues of our times.

At MercyFirst, we received about 25 calls over the first few days from people who read the article ["Unaccompanied minors," News, July 27]. I was pleasantly surprised to find that eight out of 10 were very positive: offers to volunteer, raise money, donate clothes and even become a foster parent.

Other calls got very political and nasty very quickly. As I explained, our program is not about any larger immigration issues. It was created in response to a humanitarian crisis on our Southern border brought about by extreme violence and dangerous living conditions in Central America. I noted that our program was in keeping with a law our country passed in 2008 to provide the possibility of asylum to those children fleeing violence. These were conversations that found no middle ground and no sympathy.

Our response to this crisis is in keeping with the spirit and priorities of the Sisters of Mercy, who founded our agency in 1894 when many of the children were Irish and Italian. While MercyFirst is now administered by lay people like myself, our mission today remains the same as it was 120 years ago when the sisters bought an old farm in Syosset to use as an orphanage. We no longer have orphanages in this country, as the times have changed. However, the needs today are very similar to what brought our own grandparents and great-grandparents to this country.

Jerry McCaffery, Syosset

Editor's note: The writer is the president of MercyFirst.