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The Riches of a Nation

August 17, 2014

Child Labor in Textile Mills, Lawrence, Mass., Site of IWW-led Immigrant Strike (1912), (PD)

“…[A] young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.”

– Jonathan Swift, from A Modest Proposal

Satirist, Jonathan Swift was talking about the Irish poor when he advocated infanticide and cannibalism as means for society to deal with the problem of hunger. Swift was, of course, speaking facetiously.

Industrial Revolution

At the time, it was widely believed that people were the riches of a nation. This belief was held concurrently with its virtual opposite, that workers should be paid as little as possible to induce productivity from them. Thus, the egregious practices of the Industrial Revolution.

Post –Industrial Age

We realize today that population size alone does not equate with prosperity. A population must be appropriately educated, and afforded a fair opportunity to offer its ideas, talents, skills, and labor in the marketplace, in exchange for a fair price.

Despite that knowledge, our Post-Industrial Age seems to be re-adopting the discredited canon of the past. Social Darwinism – survival of the fittest, interpreted as survival of the wealthiest – has regained popularity. A substantial number believe that a living wage (the minimum earnings required to fill basic needs) would encourage sloth. Not surprisingly, the vast majority favoring this viewpoint have never had to struggle to make a living.

Refugee Crisis

This brings us to the 52,000 children – most unaccompanied – who have besieged America’s southern border since October 2013, children fleeing violence in their countries of origin (primarily Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador), in hopes of obtaining safe haven in the United States [1].

There is no doubt that the dangers these children have experienced – gang violence, government corruption, and political upheaval – are real. Honduras, for one, has the highest murder rate in the world. Misinformation was another factor drawing them here.

As of this writing, Mexican children are being summarily turned over to Mexican authorities, and sent home.

Children from Central America, however, are subject to the 2008 William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Reauthorization Act [2] [3]. The Act, which put in place new protections for children, was intended to stop human trafficking. These protections have resulted in processing delays, further contributing to the backlog. Children may wait as long as 3 years for a court hearing, spending the interim in foster care or with relatives already living in the United States.

Political Arithmetic

Both the Republican and Democratic Parties have seized on this situation to call for immigration reform – something for which neither party has the votes (or backbone). This is mere posturing, meant as a display of moral superiority without any real expenditure of effort.

Surely, we could establish foreign worker permits ensuring the payment of taxes on earnings, while including a pathway toward citizenship for those desiring to pursue it. So why have we not done this?

A Great Challenge

Great nations face great challenges. As long as America remains a nation of promise, it will draw immigrants, legal and illegal.

The fact we have chosen to deport illegals, but not penalize the employers providing them jobs at below minimum wage, ensures a continuous flow of the desperately poor. From the perspective of such employers (and those lobbying Congress on their behalf), this is a desired outcome…just as slavery was viewed as essential to the accumulation of wealth, in earlier centuries.

America cannot police the entire Western Hemisphere, without compromising the sovereignty of its neighbors. One option is, therefore, to turn our backs on these children (and the rest who may follow). This would be nothing less than a death sentence for a large number of children, in the process betraying our immigrant forebears, and the very concept of freedom on which this nation was founded.

Alternatively, we could throw wide our arms, our hearts, and our doors. Counter-intuitive as that option might seem, at first, it would engender enormous gratitude on the part of the 52,000 children granted asylum on humanitarian grounds, and enormous admiration across the globe.

Perhaps America does not “need” the admiration of the world. We have stood alone before, but never for the sake of self-interest. And if we seek to establish coalitions with like-minded nations, we must be willing to demonstrate that our principles are more than paper-thin.

Is any other nation better equipped than we are to address this problem? Shall we ship these children instead to a penal colony somewhere? History has shown the value squandered by the British, from such an approach, and taken root instead in Australian soil.

This is a benefit, not a burden, if we will only see it.

The Riches of a Nation

Just as Swift argued, the significance of a human life cannot be measured in mere poundage. The expense of nurturing and educating its children is, in fact, an investment in the future of a nation. The return on such an investment is potentially boundless.

Until and unless we recognize that people truly are the riches of a nation, America will miss out on this opportunity both to maximize its success and live out its ideals.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, The fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, So are the children of one’s youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them; They shall not be ashamed, But shall speak with their enemies in the gate [receive justice]” (Ps. 127: 3-5).

Should you wish to donate, Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) is an association of law firms, NGOs, and others, providing pro bono legal counsel to unaccompanied immigrant children.  KIND is one of multiple organizations mobilizing to assist these children.

[1] The Guardian, “’Flee or Die’: Violence Drives Central America’s Child Migrants to US Border” by Jo Tuckman, 7/9/14,

[2] NY Times, “Immigrant Surge Rooted in Law to Curb Child Trafficking” by Carl Hulse, 7/7/14,

[3] NPR, “What’s Causing the Latest Immigration Crisis? A Short Explainer” by Alan Greenblatt, 7/9/14,


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