What duty of care do we owe to other people’s children?

By Caitlin Kelly


If you have been paying any attention to U.S. news, you will know that the southern border of the United States has been pelted with desperate would-be immigrants heading north from Central America. Many of them are children and teens arriving alone.

(And the crisis is hardly unique — a recent follower here at Broadside blogged a similar story about the immigrant crisis there — in Italy, {and written in Italian}).

In the past few weeks, the California town of Murrieta has become a flash point, with some people physically blocking the road as buses enter their town for processing by federal authorities. Others welcome them.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Hundreds of people gathered on the road to the Murrieta processing center, anticipating another convoy of vehicles containing immigrants.

The number of protesters swelled Friday despite the summer heat, the Fourth of July holiday and a police strategy that mostly kept the groups apart and away from the processing center.

In a reversal from earlier in the week, there were substantially more demonstrators on the immigration-rights side.

Authorities kept the road to the center clear and the protesters in check, although scuffles did break out. Murrieta police arrested five people for obstructing officers during an afternoon altercation. One other person was arrested earlier in the day.

The group protesting the transfer of the immigrants to California waved American flags and chanted “USA,” while across the street demonstrators responded with, “Shame on you!”

The current flood has promoted President Obama to request $3.7 billion to address the crisis; from USA Today:

As thousands of children continue streaming across the nation’s southwest border, the White House asked Congress on Tuesday for $3.7 billion to improve security along the border, provide better housing for the children while they’re in custody and to speed up their deportation proceedings.

The White House also wants to increase assistance to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, where most of the children are coming from, to help them stop the rush of people leaving there and to improve their ability to receive the expected influx of deported children.

Stephanie Gosk, a reporter for NBC Nightly News, traveled to a Honduras town plagued by gang violence to find out why this flood continues — and will do so.

It’s interesting to note which children are welcomed into the U.S., where and why.


Here’s a story from the Deseret News of Utah about the patriotic thrill one writer felt in welcoming children from Burma, Somalia and Uganda:

Children of all ages swarmed my daughters as they searched through the bin of donated soccer cleats trying to find the right sizes. It was simultaneously heartbreaking and exciting as the girls slipped cleats onto bare feet but more often than not had to repeat “too small” or “all gone” or “I’m so sorry.”

The rudimentary apartment complex is adjoined by a soccer field where organized games for children of all ages are played. They form teams according to age and nationality, creating a mini World Cup right in their own backyard.

Most of the refugees from this particular apartment complex are from Somalia, Uganda and Burma and are assisted by Catholic Community Services of Utah.

A one-time LDS Church meetinghouse in the area has become a bustling refugee center where many gather every afternoon for English lessons, health screenings and assistance with finding a job. I was told the immigrants received vouchers for food and clothing as well as home visits for the first six months. Soon after they are required to pay back the costs of their airfare to the sponsoring agency and try to be self-sufficient.

And, in a move of total desperation and naivete, a young mother, 20-year-old Frankea Dabbs, from North Carolina recently abandoned her 10-month-old baby girl in her stroller — on a smelly, hot New York City subway platform, telling police after her arrest she thought it was a safe public place to do so.

I wrote about these unaccompanied minors when I was a reporter at the NY Daily News, back in 2005 — it is not a new issue, but one that has suddenly exploded into national consciousness.

Here — for those with a deep interest in the issue — is a long and deep (17 page) analysis of it from 2006 in the Public Interest Law Journal, which cites my newspaper piece in the footnotes.

These stories push every button within us, as readers, viewers, voters and taxpayers: compassion, outrage, frustration, indignation,  despair.

What do you think Obama should do?



26 thoughts on “What duty of care do we owe to other people’s children?

  1. Some sort of infrastructure needs to be set up to process these kids. International Red Cross should be involved. It reminds me of the children sent from Germany to England during WWII, the lucky ones who somehow got their children on the Kindertransport. For some things turned out well. They children were cared for. For some it was a nightmare, not the nightmare their parents endured, but horrible none the less. NGO”s need to step up here and offer guidance.

  2. Perhaps he should remember the sign which comes with the Statue of Liberty about the poor and huddled masses? Parents have presumably sent these children to what they suppose will be a better life. They must be desperate. What will sending them back solve? This is an opportunity to create some United States Citizens of the future who love and are grateful to their country. As Kathleen says, the Red Cross should be involved and there should be money to house these children while they’re processed and homes and schools found for them.
    The duty of care we owe other people’s children is the same as the duty of care we owe our own and what we hope would be given to our children if we were forced to send them away.
    xxx Huge Hugs Caitlin xxx

    1. I am appalled at $3.7 billion, though — as I suspect many Americans are. I agree that compassion is the right/ideal choice, but the American economy is still crushing millions of Americans. That is a shit-ton of money spent on rescuing people whose own nations are a mess. I have mixed feelings.

  3. This is a global problem.
    Especially young refugees need at first help and support. But Europe answers with deportation.
    Germany has no border next to countries where the people came from. But the most European States are member of the ” Schengen agreement” – a contract to keep our borders close and give Germany the right to send the refugees back to the so called ‘save arrival-Countries’. Many refugees, who stay actually in Hamburg, Germany came from Italien, Lampedusa. The have no right to stay here, even the living conditions are terrible at Lampedusa.

    All these young people are traumatised and get only help from engaged people and the church. Infrastrucure is not enouht. There is no political interrest to give help and protection.

    What should Obama do?
    Like every powerful politican he has to act responseble for the infrastructure and actually needs of the refugees. The young people need ,after the first time of aid a perspective for their live.
    He could stayf for a politic of ‘ Welcome’ , not opposite. The money, wasted for ‘ security’ at the borders should better used for a human politic.
    And he could try to stop the politic of global exploitation and war.
    Like our politicans should do.

    But because they don’t do so, the question better is: what can I / WE do?

    1. Thanks for this European perspective — I know this issue is also very much affecting Europe with waves of desperate Africans trying to come in, often through Spain or by boat, and many dying enroute.

      My frustration is with the disaster-areas of the nations that these people are fleeing…like the U.S., some European economies are already facing tremendous trouble on their own and their citizens also need help. How to balance all these simultaneous needs?

  4. themodernidiot

    Give fifty times that much. We have the money. Sell some decommissioned fighter jets on EBay. Cut off a Congress. Stop the bullshit hearings. Have a god damned bake sale like everyone else. Just write the check and don’t be bitches about it.

    Humanitarian crises. They’re not “somebody else’s problem.”

    Then give that much to drug rehab to decrease the US market for drugs, thereby lessening the power of the cartels that are causing these refugee situations.

    Then give that much to border security for the safe and thorough monitoring of the entrants. Make sure we have adequate training for our personnel; proper equipment; and a high inventory of necessary supplies including food, water, doctor stuff, and soap.

    Then spend what’s left to arrest all the selfish, racist bastards at the fence.

    You asked about our duty to care about other people’s children. Should we be asking ourselves why we feel no duty to simply care for other people…just because they’re people?

    1. Thanks for weighing in. We do have “the money” — and I agree that much of it is spent on bullshit.

      Does it not trouble you that there is NO end, apparently, to this exodus? I don’t deny any of your arguments, or your compassion. But I doubt the drug cartels will go away anytime soon. Hasn’t the U.S. also been trying to deal with that — clearly with no effect?

      1. themodernidiot

        Well dealing with and exacerbating the problem are two different things, but that’s for another, very long post. This will be lengthy enough.

        As far as the exodus, influx, diaspora, whatever is most digestible for people, it is just human history reshaping itself. It’s how we got here, it’s how we got our cultures, our languages, our religions, our food.

        We tend to have short memories when it comes to the inevitable transience of Homo sapiens. We have evidence of societies moving for millions of years, and civilised movement for the last ten thousand. And it’s always multiple groups moving for different reasons: food, escaping violence, expansion, and curiosity. Same as now.

        It’s about time we just grew up and accepted our own species as acceptable spacemates. As many borders and fences we want to put up, they’re all just arbitrary boundaries to induce revenue, and provide a false sense of security.

        The earth is entirely accessible, as it should be. Seriously, how is it sane in any way to say where you can go? We can set up our plots and charge rents, pick languages, and plant flags; but to be piggy bitches about it? Let people go where they want, where they need to. Hand them a packet of citizenship stuff and an application to Wendy’s, “There ya go, Newbie. Taxes are due April 15th and every time you buy something. Wilkommen aux Estados Unidos.”

        Then bam, huge consumer spending increase. Finally.

        We can cut subsidies to placate the bean counters in Washington (if we do it for impoverished immigrants then GE and Wells Fargo have to fork it over as well), but turning the desperate away at the end of a gun is just a dick move.

        Anyone who wants to come should be able to. Just by existing they add to our national recipe, spice up our cocktail. And they improve it by importing new knowledge. Just like our ancestors did.

        What makes me laugh about the whole debate is the nativism. Europeans came and took everything from the indigenous people, are still taking from them as Americans, but have the audacity to look at newcomers as a threat. What’s the matter, Whitey? Paranoid? Think you deserve it?

        The gangs, the terrorists, all the bogey men the American public fears are already here; and half of them are US born.

        I am done with excuses as to why people running for their lives, from something we helped create, aren’t good enough for us to spit on. And I’m damn sick of those same excuses being used for why we’ve let Syria, China, Darfur, etc. continue.

        We have the money, but we spend it like Romans on legions rather than like gardeners on seeds.

        It’s time we shift the paradigm; isolationism and exclusivity isn’t working, and our Karma’s on the shitter.

  5. Steve

    The first thing he should do is his job and enforce the laws that Congress, the representatives of the people have passed and secure our borders. I feel for the plight of all people that are less fortunate than us but it is IMPOSSIBLE for us to be the provider for the world. There is nothing wrong with being humanitarian and helping other countries but not at the cost of our own sovereignty. I wonder who will get the blame when some terrorist detonates a dirty bomb in one of our own cities. There has been at least three 3 trucks containing nuclear waste go missing close to the Mexican border in the last several months? Perhaps the selfish, racist bastards one of your posters claims is on the border. Maybe one of the American landowners or taxpayers whose property along the border is being compromised. Why are all you on the left so willing to GIVE rights to those who aren’t entitled to them but are always so willing to TAKE the rights of someone else? I don’t get it.

    1. Thanks, Steve. I am also appalled at the attacks on Americans and their land. I saw a similar situation when I lived in Quebec in the mid 1980s when planeloads of economic refugees came in from Germany (Turks) and immediately were given welfare and access to medical care — while we paid tremendous amounts of tax.

      “Why are all you on the left so willing to GIVE rights to those who aren’t entitled to them but are always so willing to TAKE the rights of someone else?”

      Thus the challenge of policy-making…trying to balance the competing needs of people with very different perspectives, even in the middle of a crisis.

  6. Kids who have one parent severing their relationship with the other parent as well as their entire family are at the mercy of community. The target parent has no power thanks to a corrupt & incompetent Family Court system that is not held accountable. Intervention from the community is a must when it comes to the complexity of Parental Alienation and the obsessive and methodically planned tactics of the sociopath/alienating parent. Parental Alienation has been called the “worst form of child abuse” by experts, yet it (& the corresponding suicides & self-destructive behaviors it often induces) is ignored. Where is our village?

    1. Thanks.

      Very different issue, and a legally complicated one, as you seem to know firsthand. In the U.S., anyway, there is very little to no state/federal support for children and families. You’re on your own. It’s the American way, for better or worse.

  7. A very heated topic, obviously. Our pastor addressed this issue having recently returned from Honduras. He says the poverty is desperate, creating desperate choices. Watching your children die of starvation or load them on top of a train with hopes of a better life? Frightening. Once again the phrase, “To much is given, much is required” comes to mind. We have so much in America. It’s mind-numbing to think how so many countries have so little. How do we find the balance?

    1. I admire your pastor — for making the journey and having the courage of his convictions to address it from the pulpit. Our minister (one reason I have less commitment to my church than I would prefer) never addresses issues of social justice — and our community is a very wealthy one. Drives me nuts.

      The problem is that — for some Americans — “much is given” is a fallacy and those people are angry, cheated, fed up of paying high taxes and being paid poverty wages within their own borders. It is hard to gin up compassion for others (no matter how morally right to do so) when you and yours feel royally screwed already. Many Americans now do…the recession never ended for them.

  8. I’m not sure Obama can do anything except issue executive orders to skirt around a gridlocked Congress, which will lead his opponents to get angrier and say he’s ruining the Constitution and his country, and lead to more gridlock and we’ll just go on and on this way.

    But yeah, these kids should be afforded refugee status. Many of them are fleeing gang warfare, violence, and drug cartels, and the US is relatively much safer than their own homes (though we have a problem with violence ourselves). If you ask me, a good step to fixing this problem would be to first confront the gridlock in Congress, because only then can action really take place. But to do that, it might mean we need to stop the whole idea that money is speech. Though I don’t see that happening any time soon.

    1. Steve

      You do realize Rami that the job of the President is NOT to issue executive orders in regards to setting immigration policy, it is to ENFORCE the laws passed by Congress, who’s job it is to set policies by enacting laws, thus the problem. By sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong is why we have this problem in the first place. What does this President propose to do? Do you seriously think it will stop the flow, or I spouse I should say flood of those trying to get here. Excepting all these people with this “open border” policy being enacted by this President and others such as themodernidiot (quite apply named) is nothing short of national suicide. Fortunately those of us who work for a living and actually love our country and want to protect it and its citizens and their property rights still seek to abide by OUR Constitution. Some of you need to sit down and read it.

      1. Gentlemen, please keep it CIVIL — the “modernidiot” is a smart, caring person who has contributed much to this site with her ideas and enthusiasm and comments.

        I don’t allow anyone here to insult one another. OK? Argue your convictions, but no attacking one another.

      2. I have read the Constitution, and it’s within the President’s limits of power to put out executive orders, which is the only thing getting done in gridlocked Washington. And he’s put out much fewer orders than his predecessors, including President Bush or Reagan.

  9. coming from the perspective of a mother, grandmother, and teacher of children, i think it is our duty as human beings to help children in whatever way we can. their parents have sent them here for a chance at a better life, where we have had the luck to be born, through no work of our own. as for financing it, i see it as a worthy cause on the highest order, without question.

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