A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


The Lives of Children

Years ago children enjoyed and/or survived summers free of close adult supervision. I did. Reading, staging plays with other kids, bicycle riding, swimming in Lake Michigan. Pretty much, if we told our mothers where we were going (even if we didn't get there), we were free to roam on our own. Here are three stories about what kids are doing this summer.

"Since Memorial Day weekend, about 1,000 women and children have been flown to Tucson from Texas, then driven by bus to Phoenix and dumped unceremoniously, weary and hungry, left to find their families scattered around the nation. Some minors will be housed at a naval base in California, and immigration officials are finding extra aircraft. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been ordered to coordinate efforts to contain the crisis."  NYTimes, June 5, 2014

A NEW YORK TRADITION: The Fresh Air Fund  Each summer The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, not-for-profit agency, provides thousands of New York City children with unforgettable summer experiences that unlock their limitless potential.... Since 1877, The Fresh Air Fund, a not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer experiences in the country to more than 1.8 million New York City children from low-income communities."

And something different: "It seemed like a pretty typical summer day for a pretty typical New York City kid, except that when it was time to go home, Futaba and her mother, Keiko, did not ride the subway to Queens, or the bus to the Upper West Side. Instead, they piled into a cab that whizzed them past Macy’s, Times Square and a gaggle of 57th Street souvenir shops to a short-term, luxury rental apartment behind the Plaza hotel. That’s where the Kawakamis, who are Japanese and live in Tokyo, are staying for the rest of the month so that Futaba can experience what many city youngsters take for granted: day camp." NYTimes, July 11.

Compare and Contrast.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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Here is one take on the border situation with the unaccompanied youths:

If this author (retired Archbishop Roger Mahoney) is correct, the situation is in large part driven by the drug cartels.  The price for smuggling someone across the border is said to be $7000 or more. Makes one wonder where the money is coming from in areas where the annual income of a working person may be a tenth of this sum. Parents want a better life for their children, what if this money were spent on their education? A large number of the refugees are coming from Central American countries. Would selectively applied humanitarian aid in those countries stem the flow of people trying to leave?

Sorry - no one has $7K to pay a *coyote* or gang; this is ridiculous.

You say - "what if this money is spent on their education?"  Obviously, you have never spent time or lived in one of these nations.  Education - facts........given the level of violence, gang threats, pressure, etc., they are happy to just be alive.  The economic situation is so bad that many barely have a meal a day - hard to educate in that environment.

Mahoney oultines some historical and current results of US foreign policy in these countries.  Did you know that as recently as the 1980s, the ten richest families in Guatemala controlled, owned, and generated 90% of the country's GDP?  And many of these families have longstanding arrangements, business agreements, etc. with the largest US corporations (who, of course, get cheap products because laborers are paid pennies on the dollar).

Some of the best research and stories about the situation in these countries are by a catholic writer, Penny Lernoux - examples - *Cry of the People: The Struggle for Human Rights in Latin America - the Catholic Church in conflict with US Policy*;  *Hearts on Fire: the story of the Maryknoll Sisters*

" one has $7K to pay a coyote or gang; this is ridiculous."  That's kind of what I was thinking, too. I was going by this quote from the article, "The cartels charge $7000 or $8000 per child to take them across Mexico to the US border." The author doesn't say where he got those figures.

A New York Times story gave a figure of $7000, reporting that a mother mortgaged her house for $5000 and borrowed $2000. That may be hearsay of course.

I think we don't have the full story of these migrations, the push and the pull, along with the costs and consequences.

NYTimes - think they may need to join Obama and make a trip to the border and actually talk to folks.

Yes, don't doubt that some may have received money from their families in the US; that some may have paid these exorbitant amounts but 50,000 or more?

One NYTimes articte cited an interview with a Guatemala mother who paid $7,000 Guatemalan dollars - equivalent of $350 US dollars.

You also have the reality that many of these folks have tried to cross three or more times - some have actually been detained in Mexico and deported back to their home countries and they start all over again. 


What does Gene Palumbo have to say about this?

The contrast is a pertinent and necessary one for anyone who has pondered Matthew 25. Fifty one million people are displaced in todays world because of the terrible wars started or continue by rulers or rebels. Half of them are children. 9/11 was traumatic for a nation which has no idea or concern for people who are living acutely deprived lives. Now all these "Christians" are disturbed by children coming to this country seeking a better life. And a phony "Christian" Congress balks at approving funds to help the children and the communities who must find ways to cope with the influx. 


No wonder Jesus said that those who did not feed him when he was hungry and did not visit him, denied it ever happened. They  were too busy proclaiming him for personal gain. 

Bill deHaas

You wrote,


"Sorry - no one has $7K to pay a *coyote* or gang; this is ridiculous." 

I can see how you'd say that, but our understanding here (El Salvador) is that in fact, that is what people are paying, and sometimes it's even more. 

You also wrote,

You also have the reality that many of these folks have tried to cross three or more times - some have actually been detained in Mexico and deported back to their home countries and they start all over again.

We're told that sometimes the deal struck between coyote and client includes a promise by the coyote to give the person three tries - that is, if the person is arrested on the first attempt, the coyote will take them up again, for no extra charge; so, too, on a third attempt if necessary.

You also mentioned Penny Lernoux's Cry of the People.  Here's a link to an updated preface for the book:

The article about Asian children flying to the US and living in high-end hotels with their mothers while they attend day camp seemed outrageous in a way, but not so far from my reality in another way. Only this year, while I was in the US, a young French relative visited me there, and I sent her to a local day camp. Why? Not because of the activities there specifically, but much more because it was a way for her to meet American children, improve her English, and get comfortable with a different culture.

Despite this air of privilege, most parents said they were sending their children to New York camp for something money can’t buy: ease with American culture.

The children, in the end, do variations of what children have always done during vacation: hang out with other kids and play.


Here is a story from the NYTimes  (July 10).  It's headlined Honduras, but I see Gene did reporting from San Salvador. 

Wouldn't you dig up in any way possible the sum of $5,000 to $7,000 to see your child again if you had made it safely to the US? The Latino community is solidly supportive of seeing moms re-united with their kids who are in extreme danger in Central America. They have a different take on trusting a coyote guide to help their child successfully make it. Some ride the Beast, others hitch-hike or take a series of busses. Some walk long distances, begging along the way. But they are determined, even making multiple attempts when they are caught. We should be proud that our country is seen by them as a land of both refuge and opportunity. Every child is definitely worth the price.

This New Republic article from a couple of days ago elaborates on some of the points made in comments.


Thanks Jim. An old story, and a tragic one.

Vassar, Mich., not far from me, is being reviewed as a possible holding area for child refugees/illegal aliens, depending on your POV. Marching around waving flags and brandishing weaponry, always the sign of a thoughtful and considered opinion, but, then, this is the area of the state that bred the militia movement and Timothy McVeigh:

Meantime, Marygrove College in Detroit is willing to offer help to these children if Obama recognizes them as refugees and no one there is squawking about that there. I'm proud of Detroit and of Marygrove!

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