Bill Moyers has republished a story on Child Migrants that first appeared at Mother Jones. The article is a response to the hateful actions of some anti-immigration extremists responding to a bus load of child migrants making their way into the U.S. http://billmoyers.com/2014/07/18/child-migrants-have-been-coming-to-america-alone-since-ellis-island/
My grandfather Sam, with my grandmother, are holding my father in the photo on the right. Sam came to the U.S. in 1911 alone, at the age of 13 or 14. His father had taken him from their home in the Carpathian Mountains of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, an area that would be part of Czechoslovakia between the two world wars, to the German port city of Bremen for passage to the U.S. They were not wealthy, and with a large family, it was probably very difficult to support the older children, unless there were opportunities for them to apprentice or otherwise earn their keep. In addition, the Austro-Hungarian Army was conscripting young men into its army. Either way, there would not be much future for a young man from a persecuted minority to remain. The eldest male in the family, Sam certainly would be picked up into the army at one time or another. So, Sam arrived in the U.S. at the Port of Baltimore, like most immigrants, not passing through Ellis Island. There was no family or social agency waiting for him, and he did not read or speak English. Sam hitchhiked to Cleveland, where he sought to find some relatives. There was a Jewish community of immigrants there, with whom he eventually had a chance to find work and housing. Sam became a painter and eventually set up a painting contractor business, sending money back to his family in what was then Czeshoslovakia until the late 1930’s, when communications were cut off and history played out in the Shoah.
Sam worked hard, got married, struggled greatly, and finally found his version of the American Dream. He had a hard working son (my father), who fought in WWII and two hard-working daughters. Had Sam been sent back as a child migrant, he likely would have fought, and died, in the infantry of WWI fighting against the allies. Had he survived, he would most likely have died with the rest of his family in Auschwitz. People don’t send their children, or orphans, to the United States, without a penny, for fun and profit. They are afraid, desperate, and most often destitute, hoping against hope that their child will find a way to life a good life. My grandfather arrived in the U.S. as a refugee without any refugee status, unable to speak or read English. His story is so similar to the children arriving from South or Central America. It is heartbreaking to see hatred and insensitivity directed at these children. Only time, and history, would tell what would happen to these children if they are sent back. Many will face immense suffering, extreme poverty, even death. Like my grandfather, some of these children might never become American citizens. But their children wouldlikely become part of what makes the next generations of America a great nation – if we are still willing to open our hearts in ways that make us deserve to be a great nation once again.