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In an article by Hannah Dreir in this morning’s New York Times answered a question that’s been on my mind for a while. Namely, what has been happening to all the refugee children whom Trump tore away from their parents or who crossed the border alone in some other manner? I’ve read about their being “relocated” or “placed” in some manner. But located from where to whence and placed with whom and for how long and under what conditions? Answers seem vague.

Those answers, it seems, are more horrendous than I imagined. Think Oliver Twist. Think David Copperfield. Think workhouse. Think starvation. Think exploitation of the worst kind. Think Fagin on steroids and multiplied by the thousands, and you begin to get the picture.

Merciful volunteers agree to shelter, clothe and house the waifs, arrange for them to enroll in school, serve as parents/guardians to, let us say, Jose and Ah Lam. For a nominal fee, of course. You wouldn’t expect them to bear all that expense and trouble for nothing, would you? After all, they have responsibilities of their own. And we have an already-existing foster care system to model on. Job done.

Fast forward to a year. There’s a good chance Jose and Ah Lam are indeed enrolled in school. There’s also a good chance they seldom attend. Or, if they do, they are too exhausted to learn. Why? because they’ve been loading food, shingling roofs, cleaning houses, packing hot dogs for 8-12 hours. And often being billed for the privilege. After all, someone had to pay to transport them all the way here from wherever. And they aren’t being asked to do all this work for nothing. That would be slavery. Now they have an income so can legitimately be asked to contribute to their own support to repay the benevolent sponsors. Suppose, at the age of 12, you already “owe your soul to the company store?”

There are, of course, child labor laws in this country to guard against these conditions. Our department of Health and Human Services will surely make sure the laws are applied. But regulations on paper are right there–on paper. If there are few or no inspections, inspectors, or penalties, the world rolls on. So beneficent are the so-called caretakers, that we often assign multiple children/victims/employees/students to their responsibility. According to Dreir, about two-thirds of these migrant children end up working full time, often to support folks back home.

These kinds of conditions we thought we’d taken care of over a century ago. As it turns out, if we set Charley D. down in 2023, he might find things pretty similar in many respects to his good old 1870’s. Wish it weren’t so, but shake my hand, Charles. Let’s sit down at our keyboards and get to work.


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