Unaccompanied Immigrant Children Help To Build Our Nation

As A ‘Crisis’ Builds On The Border, Let’s Not Forget A Similar Crisis Is Why We Get To Call America Home

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

Immigrant children at Ellis Island in 1908. (National Archives)

This week, while you are scarfing down corned beef and cabbage and scoffing at child migrants at the border, remember Annie Moore.

Who is/was she? On January 1, 1892, she was the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island. She was a 15-year-old girl from Ireland who was put on a boat by her relatives and sent to America with two younger brothers and no adult. They wanted a better life for these children than what they could have found in Ireland.

When Annie arrived at Ellis Island, she walked off the boat, was given $10 and welcomed into America. Until the Immigration Act of 1907, passed 15 years later, there were zero restrictions on immigration into the United States (except against Chinese people). If you were an Irish immigrant, even an unaccompanied minor, you just walked into America. Before 1907, you didn’t have to wait in a facility like children are doing at the border today. Even after, an unaccompanied child was detained at places like Ellis Island and then quickly given into the custody of relatives, a religious institution or a foster family. Few were turned away.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied Irish children were put on boats and sent to America by their parents or other relatives who couldn’t feed them or take care of them during and after the Great Famine, or, as in Annie’s case, to meet parents who came to America without their children to find work. If you have Irish Ancestry, chances are you descend from them. They are our grandparents, great-grandparents or great-great grandparents. You may owe your American lifestyle to a child who came to this country alone. My own great-grandmother, Felicina Deusebio came to America from Biella, Italy (via France) as a 19-year-old, coming to find her two sisters, who came here as teenagers in specialty-designed dresses with their names stitched on them. Our ancestors more than a century ago decided finding a better life was more important than what you might term “respecting borders.”

Those kids at the border are no different than your ancestors. They are sent her by relatives desperate for them to have a better life, or trying to reconnect with relatives who came here looking for work, unable to bring their children with them. We should dedicate ourselves to making sure that they will be given the same opportunities than America gave our forefathers.


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