In our opinion: History will remember our response to the current Central American refugee crisis

Deseret News editorial

Published: Thu, July 24, 2014, 12:00 a.m. MDT

 FILE - This June 18, 2014 file photo shows children detainees coloring and drawing at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) processing facility in Brownsville,Texas. Border Patrol agents stationed in South Texas are the busiest in the country, arresting tens of thousands of children illegally crossing the border without their parents and thousands more families with children.

FILE - This June 18, 2014 file photo shows children detainees coloring and drawing at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CPB) processing facility in Brownsville,Texas. Border Patrol agents stationed in South Texas are the busiest in the country, arresting tens of thousands of children illegally crossing the border without their parents and thousands more families with children.

(Eric Gay, Associated Press)

Most Central American children streaming across the United States’ southwestern borders are teens, but many are under the age of 10. Collectively, they’re seen as poster children for some kind of legislative action on immigration or border security. The compassionate stance understands they fled to escape poverty, violence, gangs, drug cartels and human trafficking. The critical stance worries they’ll bring the same to U.S. soil.

Children in crisis have been moved before en masse into the United States — but certainly not in these numbers, estimated at 60,000 since October and possibly another 20,000 by this fall. But it’s worth examining such previous migrations:

After Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, some 1,000 Haitian children were granted “humanitarian parole” and entrance to the U.S. by President Obama.

Prior to the spring 1975 fall of Saigon, President Gerald R. Ford approved “Operation Babylift” — 30 flights at a cost of $2 million to transport 4,000-plus Vietnamese orphans to the United States.

Parents opposed to Fidel Castro’s regime in Cuba in the early 1960s sent 14,000 children and youths to the U.S. in an exodus known as “Operation Pedro Pan.” While the Catholic Church coordinated much of the relocation, the federal government contributed financing and visa waivers.

At the onset of World War II, Britain received 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi-occupied nations through efforts dubbed “Kindertransport.” About 1,000 ended up in America.

While not immigrants per se, some 250,000 orphaned, abandoned or homeless children were dispatched by rail from East Coast cities to foster families mostly in the rural Midwest, as the so-called “orphan trains” ran from the 1850s to the 1920s.

Nearly four centuries ago, 100 vagrant children were rounded up in London in 1618 and shipped to Virginia Colony to help alleviate labor shortages, marking the early stages of Britain’s “home children” scheme of distributing the poor or orphaned to overseas interests.

Ironically, the first person registered on the Jan. 1, 1892, opening of Ellis Island’s immigration station was an unaccompanied minor— 15-year-old Annie Moore of Ireland, accompanied by two younger brothers. Eventually reunited with parents who had immigrated to America three years previous, Emily was welcomed with a certificate and $10 gold coin — a statue now commemorates her place in U.S. immigration.

As these Central American children are transported to detention centers and temporary facilities while their status is considered, protesters in Arizona and California are lining the streets and even blocking buses.

It’s reminiscent of 1939, when the German ocean liner MS St. Louis tried transporting 938 Jewish child and adult refugees out of Nazi-occupied Germany and unsuccessfully to North America. After being turned away by Cuba, the United States and Canada, the St. Louis returned to Europe, with a third of the refugees received by Great Britain. The rest disembarked in Belgium to be divided up among that country, the Netherlands and France. Eventually, about a quarter of the ship’s passengers died in Nazi concentration camps.

In future years, how will history recount our response — the United States as a national government and Americans as a people — to the 2014 mass immigration of Central American children and youths? Will we be seen as humanitarian and helpful? Or harsh and even hostile?

Let us remember this past history as the nation considers its current response to these Central American child immigrants.

1. marxist
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 24, 2014

I absolutely agree with your editorial. Like everything else this crisis is being used as an excuse to hammer the administration. On this issue could we give it a rest?

The United States is probably the largest trading partner for all of the source countries. Could we get some corporate help in handling this load?

But it would appear this situation will inflict permanent harm on a whole lot of kids.

2. JimInSLC
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 24, 2014

I cannot believe this propaganda piece. Shame on the author for trying to inflict guilt upon anyone that opposes this foreign invasion.

Maybe 1 in a 100 of the people illegally coming over the border is a child. The rest are adults, or older teenagers, mostly male, many with ties to gangs and have criminal records. In States across the US many violent crimes are being committed by people that have come into the country illegally.

If the conditions are so terrible in the countries that these people are fleeing from, would it not be better for the US to pressure these countries to clean up the corruption and violence in these countries.

Go to youtube and search "La Beatie"? How many children do you see riding atop the trains?

Gather up the children, treat them for any illnesses, When they have regained their health send them back to their parents in their home countries.

3. SLars
Provo, UT,
July 24, 2014

I see it much differently. History will remember the dishonesty perpetuated on the American people by many groups, the lack of immigration enforcement, and how the pro-illegal groups used children as pawns. They will wonder how people sat by and let it happen.

People in the future will wonder why we rewarded illegal behavior with amnesty, and expected it to solve the problem.

With all the genealogy sites on line, it's easy to see just how many children came here by themselves. Two thirds of the children who are now crossing our border are with parents, guardians or have family here. Many of the children who came here legally before 1976 were alone, and either re-united with parents or family.

4. anti-liar
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 24, 2014

Surely the Deseret News is aware that it has been amply demonstrated that those crossing the Texas border illegally are not escaping bona fide, imminent danger but rather are responding to assurances by Obama and others that if they enter this country, they will not be deported. Yet the paper is deliberately giving an impression that they are escaping imminent danger. Yet it does so in a plausibly deniable manner, by couching it as an "understanding" -- i.e., "The compassionate stance UNDERSTANDS they fled to escape poverty." (upper caps mine) This way it can say that it didn't actually assert it as a point of fact.

Likewise the DN ever so subtly is insinuating that opposition to the illegal-alien invasion is Nazi-esque. Bu again the paper can plausibly deny this too by simply stating, "But we only said it is REMINISCENT; we didn't say it is the case."

And the DN is subtly implying, yet again, that enforcement of immigration law is inhumane and unhelpful -- indeed that it is "harsh and hostile."

Yet here too the paper may plausibly deny actually making an assertion, that it only is asking how the nation will be viewed.

5. E Sam
Provo, UT,
July 24, 2014

Absolutely right. Will we open our hearts and homes and welcome these kids, as the Christians we profess to be? Or will we give in to xenophobic legalism, and meaningless buzz words, like 'amnesty'?