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Migrant Children: Coming To America Since 1892

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My recent article on how America, and Republicans in particular, are treating migrant children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras drew heavy criticism for my allegedly "playing the race card." I was also accused of ignorance (not in these words) and of not understanding that these migrants were coming here to take American jobs.

Yes, 10, 12, 13 and 14 year old who cannot speak English, barely read or write, traumatized by the harrowing events of their young lives, were coming here enmasse to steal American jobs. What utter idiocy. Then there is the abhorrent behavior of rich news pundits and their enablers and handlers in corporate America and the ruling political oligarchs going on and on about gang members, the possibility for a real health epidemic spawned by these children, and all manner of inane conjecture and unsubstantiated accusations.

So I thought that it might be time for a little history lesson since most Americans have been "dumbed down" by cable TV, glory-grabbing talk show hosts, and out-of-touch testimonial "experts" touting and pitching their resumes like so many unashamed political prostitutes. They have duped a gullible public that has abandoned the capacity to think critically or to examine the facts with a scintilla of logic and reason.

The fact is that migrant children coming unaccompanied to America is not new. Way back in 1892 -- 122 years ago - thousands of them, including hundreds of orphans, came to American mainly from Ireland but elsewhere in Europe, including Russia -- embarked on an epic journey by any measurement for children in those days of risky sea travel.

New York City history records that an unaccompanied child migrant was the first individual in line on opening day at the new immigration station at Ellis Island. 15-year old Annie Moore arrived in New York on a cold January 1 day in 1892. The day was also her birthday. She came from Cork County in Ireland and was given a $10 gold coin and a certificate for being the first to register.

Today, a statue of Annie stands on the island, a testament to the courage of millions of children who passed through those same doors, often traveling without an older family member to help them along.

And just like now, not everyone was so welcoming in both New York City and wider American society. Back then, just like today, alarmists, political opportunists and local racists painted a portrait of these migrant children as disease-ridden job stealers that would destroy "our American way of life." Sounds familiar?

These alarmists and their supporters demonstrated and posted angry memos and articles in local newspapers railing against these children and urging the immigration authorities to send them back. They demanded that the government do its job of enforcing the law that mandated that they be deported back to their country of origin.

Moreover, the Immigration Act of 1907 did indeed declare that unaccompanied children under 16 were not permitted to enter the United States in this fashion. But the United States government didn't send these children packing, either.

Instead, the authorities, under the act set, up a system in which unaccompanied children were kept in detention awaiting a special inquiry with immigration inspectors to determine their fate. At these hearings, local missionaries, synagogues, immigrant aid societies, and private citizens would often step in and offer to take guardianship of a child or children in the case of brothers and sisters.

The point is that these children were fleeing harsh economic and political situations in Ireland and Europe where thousands of their parents were killed. And thousands more unaccompanied children came to New York City without having friends or family here to receive them. Many of them were stowaways -so poor that they could not even afford the passage fee. They came with little more than the clothes on their backs, little or no money, and faded black and white photos of their parents.

Other children braved the often over-crowded ships and perilous journey to Ellis Island alone because they had lost their parents, often to war or famine, or both, and were sponsored by immigrant aid societies and other charities in America. Some came from Russia between 1905 and 1908 thanks to American immigrant societies posting "bonds" to be allowed to bring them here.

According to records of the period Ellis Island officials in New York City made several efforts to care for these detained migrant children on the island--those with parents and those without--who could be there for weeks at a time awaiting processing by immigration officials.

Around 1900 a playground was constructed on the island with a sandbox, swings, and slides. A group of about a dozen women known as "matrons" played games and sang songs with the children, many of whom they couldn't easily communicate with due to language barriers. Later, a schoolroom was created for them, and the Red Cross supplied a radio for the children to listen to.

The fact is that many of those kids grew up to work tough jobs, start new businesses, and create new jobs, and pass significant amounts of wealth down to some of the very people today clamoring to "send back" this new wave of child migrants today.

Difference between then and now? The wave of migrant children coming to America in 1892 were white and fleeing places that white Americans could identify with or had cultural and other ties to even while being "born in America."

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MICHAEL DERK ROBERTS Small Business Consultant, Editor, and Social Media & Communications Expert, New York Over the past 20 years I've been a top SMALL BUSINESS CONSULTANT and POLITICAL CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST in Brooklyn, New York, running (more...)

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